New York City FC players weren’t over their early playoff exit against Orlando City SC in penalties last season entering their first chance at some form of revenge.
They won’t fully be satisfied with Saturday’s result either, but they at least have something to show for it.
NYCFC was ineffective in the final third for much of the match, and a highlight-reel goal from Orlando City star Nani had NYCFC staring at another disappointment, yet a late penalty won by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and buried by Valentín Castellanos was enough for the visitors to earn a point in a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.
New York City (2-1-1, 7 points) played without attacking midfielder Maxi Moralez, who was ruled out before kickoff with a quad injury, as well as midfielder Alfredo Morales. The draw puts NYCFC in a tie with New England atop the Eastern Conference through four weeks.
"I think we're an ambitious team, and every game we go in to, we look at getting three points," said James Sands, who started in the center of a back three and played a variety of positions on Saturday. "I think we're always going to be the better team so I think anytime we don't win, it's tough. But I think you have to look at all things considered, no Maxi, no Alfredo, we're still without Héber. Just the fact that guys stepped up and performed and we got a point out of it, I think, was a real character test for us and something that will be useful down the line."
After an intense, albeit unpolished first half, Orlando went ahead in the 52nd minute when Nani curled a ball through the NYCFC defense and into the net from outside the box.
Tajouri-Shradi, who provided a spark as a substitute in the second half, was brought down by João Moutinho in the 76th minute for the penalty, which Castellanos finished after a stutter-step run up a minute later.
Jesús Medina had an open run at goal on the final play of the match, but couldn’t finish to steal the victory.
"It says so much about the team," said head coach Ronny Deila. "We’re missing our older players who can make a difference like Maxi and Alfredo, they’re very important for us and the boys go on and show themselves that way and show that we are coming far."
It figured to be a defensive afternoon for NYCFC when the starting lineup was announced without Moralez, who has no natural replacement on the roster. Making his first start of the season, Nicolás Acevedo created NYCFC’s best chance of the first half, delivering a perfect ball from midfield over the top in the 28th minute. A streaking Castellanos gathered it, but was unable to beat Orlando keeper Pedro Gallese. Homegrown 19-year-old Andres Jasson made his second start of the season for an undermanned City squad that adjusted formations throughout the day as it managed injuries and fatigue in the hot sun of central Florida.
"While we would have loved to have three points, one point away from home will certainly do," said Sands.