By Glenn Crooks
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It appeared that Jason Kreis was going to get a good night’s sleep.
Not a chance.
The 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium will rank as the most disappointing result in the short history of New York City FC.
“It feels like a loss,” said NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders after the match.
As it did for the 20,461 supporters who came out to see if their team could halt a mini two-match skid.
Kreis made three changes from Saturday’s 2-1 stoppage time loss to the Union, and the modifications in personnel and system led to some attractive, attacking soccer.
Supporters have been clamoring to see more of Oregon State rookie Khiry Shelton and the PAC 12 Player of the Year got his first start as a professional. Not surprisingly, he was a handful throughout the match and in the 57th minute assisted on a wonderful strike by one of the other newbies in the starting 11, Mehdi Ballouchy.
The third newcomer to the starting side was Colombian midfielder Javier Calle, who played left back. Calle, who was one of the culprits in a poor defending sequence that led to Philadelphia’s game winner on Saturday, defended well and attacked with a fury in a 4-3-3 system that encourages the fullbacks to operate as playmakers. Kreis may have discovered a left-sided Danny Alves for his club.
NYCFC played with attacking purpose and with the exception of three early breakdowns while adjusting to the new system, was dominant through the first 75 minutes of the match. The stat sheet indicated 17 strikes at goal and eight corner kicks, nearly matching its season total of 11 corners entering the match.
However, NYCFC had a staggering number of physical breakdowns in the latter stages of the match. Notably, right back Josh Williams cramped up in the 85th minute, allowing Philadelphia’s Andrew Wenger to drive to the end line and draw a corner that ultimately led to the equalizer.
NYCFC striker Adam Nemec, headed a clearance off the corner, but the second ball was gobbled up by Philadelphia’s Michael Lahoud, who crisply circulated the ball from left to right eventually finding the feet of substitute Cristian Maidana.
Kreis told me Wednesday that there were 100 things preventing a good night’s sleep. Well, make it 101 as the defending breakdowns during the Philadelphia scoring sequence were numerous and controllable.
Jeb Brovsky, who was benched in favor of Calle, was the third and final substitute for New York City when Calle was forced out due to severe cramping in the 78th minute. Kreis was obliged to make the other two changes at halftime – Kwadwo Poku for winger David Villa (hamstring) and Kwame Watson-Siriboe for center back Jason Hernandez (calf).
It was Brovsky who “closed down” Maidana on the fateful corner sequence and failed to deny a hopeful ball toward the top of the box, where Siroboe-Watson miss-timed his leap. The ball took an awkward deflection off the back of Union captain Maurice Edu’s head into the path of the unmarked C.J. Sapong.
Sapong’s athletic half volley from close range gave Josh Saunders no chance for the save, while Andrew Jacobson observed from the top of the box.
Jacobson, with his normal midfield mate Mix Diskerud unavailable, was superlative as the lone holding midfielder, clogging up the middle of the field defensively while often igniting the attack with crisp, pinpoint passing. However, he turned off for a moment and it may have cost his team.
I’ve watched the replay repeatedly and it was Jacobson, distracted by the first ball that Watson-Siriboe muffed, who was caught observing rather than checking Sapong, the danger player who had positioned himself for the second ball.
The physical breakdowns also proved to be disturbing. Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Shelton and Jacobson were the only members of the starting group that did not sustain injuries or cramps, while Poku, who was stimulating the attack in the first portion of his arrival, seemed to disappear, apparently suffering from a lack of game fitness.
The athletic training staff and physical performance coaches will be the most important figures for New York City in preparation for the physical and direct style of the Portland Timbers, who visit the Bronx on Sunday night.
— Kreis became quite ill Thursday and was not on the sideline for the match. He saw the game, but assistant Miles Joseph was in charge of all coaching decisions.
— Villa’s injury is listed as a slight hamstring pull. He is questionable for Sunday’s match. Villa has probably not been in complete health since the midway point of the preseason.
— There was speculation that Diskerud might be on the squad following a very productive 80-minute stint for the U.S. in its friendly with Mexico on Wednesday night in San Antonio, Texas. Michael Lewis reported that Diskerud texted Kreis after the 2-0 win for the U.S. to indicate he was ready to play if needed. But due to strict adherence to a periodization plan for his athletes, Kreis was never going to consider it.
— Diskerud was perhaps the best player on the pitch against Mexico – or at least second to Michael Bradley. Diskerud, whose percentage of completed passes leads MLS, totaled a compelling 13 positive passes in the final third against the Mexicans.
— The New York Red Bulls, who share the MLS lead for average points per game with D.C. United, host the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night. Kick-off is 7 p.m. The Red Bulls have secured eight points through four matches and trail D.C. United for the top spot in the Eastern Conference by two points – albeit with a game in hand.