New York City FC’s Jesús Medina and Gudi Thórarinsson were scapegoated by fans as much as any players in recent years, facing criticism as recent as last week after a flat opener to 2021.
With NYCFC supporters in Yankee Stadium on Saturday for the first time since 2019, both players showed why the club has kept them around.
Medina netted the first and final goals for NYCFC, while Thórarinsson scored a highlight-reel free kick to lead City past FC Cincinnati 5-0 in its home opener. A Cincinnati own goal and a Valentín Castellanos deflection rounded out the scoring, while a few impressive saves from Sean Johnson and an overall strong defensive game gave NYCFC its first clean sheet of the campaign.
"You get what you deserve in the end if you work hard, and we have two really good players there," head coach Ronny Deila said of Medina and Thórarinsson. "But I say it all the time, it’s about the team. If the team is good, individuals shine. We got the best qualities out of Jesus and Gudi today because we played as a team."
NYCFC (1-1-0, 3 points) earned its first points of the season following last week’s road loss to D.C. United. The victory was seen by a limited-capacity announced crowd of 7,212, the first game with City fans in the Bronx since the 2019 regular season home finale 577 days ago.
"The motivation we had this week, coming in here knowing that we were going to play here in front of our fans, and then having such a good game, that was obviously very important for us," Medina said through a translator.
NYCFC received a bit of fortune before kickoff when FC Cincinnati captain Luciano Acosta was left out of the lineup with an injury, as was starting keeper Przemysław Tytoń, who was replaced by Cody Cropper.
City opened the scoring in the seventh minute when a set piece turned into a scramble in front of goal. Delivering into the box from the left side, Thórarinsson curled a cross toward Alexander Callens, who headed it down into the back of a defender, ricocheting to Andres Jasson. The homegrown 19-year-old, making his first professional start Saturday, had his shot blocked, but the deflection landed near a well-placed Medina for the simple finish inside the six-yard box.
NYCFC struggled to get much going for the rest of the half, finding little success building its attack through the middle and relying on a few diving saves by Sean Johnson to stay in front.
But an aggressive start to the second half helped City put away its first victory of the season. After winning a 53rd-minute corner, Medina lofted an excellent ball into the middle, where Maxime Chanot battled with Nick Hagglund. Chanot got above the Cincinnati defender but couldn’t make a clean play on the ball, yet still it bounced off Hagglund and found its way into the net for an own goal.
Thórainsson produced the highlight of the day in the 57th minute. Standing alongside Maxi Moralez, the Icelander took charge on a free kick from a good distance outside the box, using his left foot to curl it around the Cincinnati wall and bouncing it into the net to put NYCFC up 3-0.
"I think in the second half, we started to play even more like we want to. We switched the play more, moved the ball quicker, pressed them really good," Deila said. "When we get a team under control like we did, we have to keep on scoring goals and enjoying the game, and we did that."
City got a bit lucky with its fourth goal. A corner kick found its way through to the far side of the box for an open Castellanos. The striker did not hit it cleanly, but the deflection off a Cincinnati defender gave it a perfect redirect past Cropper, and Castellanos was credited with the score.
The final goal, Medina claimed, was anything but luck. The winger bent in a ball from the right side that may have been a cross, but perfectly floated it into the top left corner to cap a celebratory return home.
With a laugh, Medina said, "I play to shoot."