NEW YORK – A noticeably melancholy David Villa stood in front of reporters in the New York City FC locker room just moments after his side conceded yet another lead and blew yet another chance at home points. In a soft voice, Villa said plenty about what went wrong on Sunday afternoon, but four words rang most true.
“We need to improve.”
Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Orlando City felt very much like a loss, a gut-punch to a team still reeling from last week’s knockout blow. Just one week after being thumped, 7-0, by the New York Red Bulls in front of their home fans, NYCFC found only despair on Sunday as the team fell flat once again in the final moments.
Up 2-0 with most of the game gone, NYCFC should have won Sunday’s game with ease. But yet, they didn’t while writing yet another disappointing chapter with what has been a rollercoaster start to their 2016 campaign.
“Of course we’re really disappointed,” head coach Patrick Vieira said, “because I think when you look at the game and the way we started, the situation and the game we played, just taking one point from that game is unbelievable.
“We had situations where we should kill the game, score that third goal and the game is finished, but we didn’t do it. We gave them the chance to get back into the game and to conceded the goal we conceded and the way we conceded the last, it’s really frustrating.”
Throughout Sunday’s match, NYCFC appeared to be the team on the front foot. Following last week’s 7-0 thrashing, the hosts rushed out of the gates in the first half before netting a deserved go-ahead goal through Fredric Brillant just before the halftime whistle.
The second stanza proved more of the same. A David Villa finish wowed the Yankee Stadium crowd as the Spanish star chipped Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik for a highlight reel goal. Just moments later, Villa was at the penalty spot with a chance to push the lead to 3-0.
In perhaps the most ironic of twists, NYCFC’s most consistent player slipped up in the game’s most crucial moment.
A star throughout his tenure at NYCFC, Villa’s wayward penalty served as a game-changer. On the run up to the shot, the star forward on the wet Yankee Stadium pitch, one that has been a lightning rod for controversy since NYCFC’s inception. The penalty kick drifted into the sky, serving as a missed chance to all but seal victory.
“I tried to shoot strong, and when my left leg stepped on the floor, it slides… Sometimes, it slides a lot. It’s no excuse for the penalty,” Villa said. “I have to score a penalty, I lost the penalty. No worries. We have this pitch, we have this stadium, and we need to improve on this pitch.”
Vieira said that there were no words needed between him and Villa. The penalty miss is a part of soccer, even if it happened at an important time. At the end of the day, Villa makes that penalty 99 times out 100, and was truthfully defended better by the Yankee Stadium pitch than any of Orlando City’s defenders.
Still, even with the circumstances, Villa understands the frustrations from those consistently filling the stands at Yankee Stadium. Pregame tifos from the crowd asked NYCFC to show heart, and Vieira hopes the day’s performance displayed just that, even if the ending proved to be the latest setback for the team.
“I think the players are really disappointed of course because we deserved to get the three points tonight,” Vieira said. “The fans, of course I can understand the frustration and the fans can express themselves. We are professionals, and when we are professionals, we have to accept the response and the criticism from the fans. Not just from the fans, after the Red Bull game, we had criticism from the fans and from (the media) as well.
“That’s part of our job. We have to face it, and that’s why we believe the best answer we can give is a performance on the field. Today we showed to our fans, we showed to (the media) that we can play football and what we are missing are the last 10-15 seconds to take the three points. I believe we were by far the better team tonight.”
What Vieira wants to see going forward is a bit more ruthlessness on both sides of the field. The former Arsenal star pointed to the team’s play in both 18-yard boxes, saying that the team’s performances in those areas serve as “truth of our game”.
Even with their setbacks and mishaps, NYCFC remains in contention for a postseason position. As things stand, NYCFC sits fourth in the East and just two points out of first, even with just one win from their first eight matches at home. When all is said and done, Vieira expects his side to push towards the postseason and, in turn, improve on the frustrating performances that have defined the early season.
“We are fighting to be part of the playoffs. We know we ned to win our home games but where we are at the moment, there’s a reason why,” Vieira said. “If we don’t get our points at home, we have to get them somewhere, and if we have to take them away from home, we will do it. We need to improve our home performances, but I think when we look at where we are, we are fighting with other teams to be in the playoffs.
“I think (the media) writes us off, but it’s far away from us to keep up. It’s difficult for every single team. People are losing points and losing against teams that you maybe don’t expect, but in football, so many things can happen that we can’t control. We have to improve our home games, but that doesn’t condition if we will be in the playoff or not.”