After a victory that saw it get back on track offensively put pay a huge price defensively, New York City FC begins a week critical to its hopes of finishing atop the Eastern Conference with a home match Wednesday against the Columbus Crew.
The Bronx Blues (11-5-8) shook off a slow start to rally past FC Cincinnati 4-1 on Saturday as its South American trio of Maxi Moralez, Valentin Castellanos, and Heber ran through the expansion side with four goals in the final hour of the match. Castellanos and Heber each recorded braces on either side of halftime, and Moralez had two assists, raising his total to an MLS-leading 16.
“In the second half I played closer to the 18-yard box and we played with three strikers and I think this helped,” Heber told NYCFC’s official Twitter account about the shift in tactics that helped the Bronx Blues. “When you win this type of game, away 4-1, it’s good for us, especially for the strikers. We live for the goals. When we score, I’m happy and everyone is happy.”
Some of that happiness was tempered by losing defender James Sands to a broken collarbone in the ninth minute after getting tangled with Cincinnati’s Mathieu DePlagne. It is the second significant injury of the season for the 18-year-old home grown center back, who has been a key part of Dome Torrent’s back line when healthy.
“It’s not good news for us because I love this player,” Torrent lamented to ProSoccer USA. “We need this player. We need everybody, but especially this player. Sometimes the soccer is not fair with the players, and right now it’s not fair with Jimmy. He deserves to play with our team. He’s an amazing player. It’s bad news for us.”
Ben Sweat replaced Sands and likely will get first crack at partnering with talisman Alexander Ring in central defense. NYCFC, which is four points behind Atlanta and Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference lead with matches in hand, is seeking a third straight home win and has taken points in all but one of its 11 matches there (6-4-1).
The Bronx Blues also host the New York Red Bulls in the second Hudson River Derby of the season Saturday.
Columbus (7-6-14) maintained its faint hopes for the final playoff spot in the East following a 2-2 draw versus Toronto FC on Saturday. The Crew remained seven points behind the Montreal Impact for seventh in the East but squandered an opportunity to draw closer as they conceded an equalizer by Jozy Altidore at the death after David Accam had provided a 2-1 lead in the 82nd minute.
“Two in a row, and that would have been four more points,” Crew coach Caleb Porter lamented. “If we just look at the last two games based on how we played, based on the chances we had, we should have four more points and it’s hard to not look back.
“It hurts but we don’t have time to cry. We got to keep going. We’ve got Wednesday and a game at New York (FC) so we got to pick ourselves back up quickly and get ready to go.”
Pedro Santos scored Columbus’ other goal, giving him a career-high nine on the season and a four-match goal-scoring streak. The Crew are riding a season-best six-match unbeaten streak (3-3-0) and have scored 12 of their 29 goals during that run.
Heber and Castellanos erased deficits with second-half goals as NYCFC scraped out a 2-2 draw in Columbus on June 1. Gyasi Zardes converted a first-half penalty and Santos gave the Crew a lead in the 61st minute before Castellanos equalized 15 minutes later.
(Heber photo courtesy Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports)