NYCFC returned to action in the Leagues Cup after a controversial first match. It was a winner take all scenario for the team that got the win. However, the Boys in Blue arrived with pressure behind them, a defeat against Toronto F.C. eliminated them from the competition. This alone was enough to assure that Monsef Bakrar would start the match. The circumstances demanded his involvement, and it’s safe to say that he took everyone by surprise. So much so that as I write this, I can say that Red Bull Arena saw NYCFC’s best version this season.
Goalfest in Harrison
Toronto had the advantage on paper. It was their first game of the tournament, and their goalkeeper is someone who knows NYCFC far too well. But the “home” team had a secret weapon that completely changed the game. Bakrar’s appearance in the starting 11 created immediate expectations as to how the team was going to look with a natural striker. Most of us did say that it was going to take him time to fully adapt, but his minutes against Atlas showed a lot of promise. NYCFC also provided a change in goal, with Matt Freeze taking over Barraza for this second game. The goalkeeper hasn’t enjoyed too many minutes this season, but it was a bold move by the manager.
The game started as it usually does for NYCFC, cautiously waiting and allowing the opponent to have possession. In the beginning, the team didn’t press as much, but the first signs of improvement appeared. From connections to the wing to quick touches to keep possession with more fluidity than in previous matches. Bakrar started to move around in the final third of the field, fighting as much as possible to win any ball from the opposition. While his movements did start creating more spaces, things started running smoothly by the 30th minute. Cannot was left unmarked during a corner kick and was able to head the ball past Sean Johnson. The goal turned out to be a turning point since it completely. What followed was complete dominance from NYCFC.
Toronto was unable to recover from that first goal, and NYCFC took full advantage of that. Keaton, Santi, and Jasson completely neutralized Toronto in midfield. Even counterattacks had a smooth but deadly build-up. Santiago Rodriguez was finally able to play like a proper 10. His importance in that role is key in matches that are tactical. But the story was different against Toronto, the midfielder scored twice against his old teammate. The ability he has to stay within the line deserves nothing but praise. In fact, he was able to add two goals during the match with an additional assist to Bakrar (more of like a rebound, but it works). The Algerian striker went on to score his first goal for NYCFC in the process. While some may say is perfect timing, I say that we must have patience so we can see the real results over time.
It was a rough night for Sean Johnson in general. It’s never easy to return to the places that gave you happiness. If you add the fact he was beaten five times, I’m sure it wasn’t the return he expected. However, there was a moment when the supporter’s section did give him an ovation at the beginning of the match. I guess you win some and lose some, but I have to admit that Johnson always behaved professionally and never lost composure. Mat Freeze also enjoyed his first clean sheet of the tournament and maybe keeps his place at goal, at least for the remainder of the tournament.
NYCFC will now have to wait until Toronto and Atlas face each other to find out if they qualify in first or second place. I hope that the team uses this performance as motivation for the rest of the tournament. For now, Bakrar and company look sharp for the road ahead. Have we finally found the missing piece that allows the team to unlock their full potential?