NEW YORK — Prior to Saturday’s match against the New England Revolution, Jesus Medina had appeared once in eight matches and accumulated playing time equivalent to two full matches in the last 20 games.
The limited play was evidence that Medina had failed to earn the trust of New York City FC head coach Dome Torrent.
But an uptick in his training performances, plus an injury to the team’s leading scorer, Héber, led to Torrent selecting Medina off the bench when he needed an attacking element in the Revolution match with 30 minutes left to play and NYCFC trailing 1-0.
Medina — who had scored two goals since Aug. 4, 2018 — recorded a brace and New York City defeated the Revolution 2-1 at Yankee Stadium
“I feel really happy because I feel vindicated,” Medina told Pro Soccer USA through a translator. “I personally always have the confidence to play.”
Medina scored the equalizer in the 70th minute when Anton Tinnerholm whipped in a cross from the right flank that the Paraguayan cleverly flicked over the helpless keeper, Matt Turner.
“He showed some quality,” said Tinnerholm, who celebrated a new contract with his career best 7th assist. ”Many players today hit the goalkeeper, and he found a little bit of a chip instead.”
Nevertheless, it was the game-winner during stoppage time that may prove to be the defining moment in Medina’s NYCFC existence.
Alexandru Mitriță was taken down in the area, giving New York City a penalty. A conversion assured City a place at the top of the table with six games remaining.
Maxi Moralez – who had taken all of City’s penalty kicks this season and converted four of seven – handed that chore to the enigmatic 22-year-old Medina.
“It was a decision in the moment,” Medina said. “Maxi asked me if I wanted to take the penalty and I said yes, and I’m happy that Maxi thought of me and trusted me and it gave me the confidence in that moment to score the goal and win.”
Torrent recalled that Lionel Messi did the same thing at times, “saying to Luis Suarez and others, ‘you take the kick.'”
“I say to Maxi, ‘If you decide you’re not sure to shoot the penalty, then Taty’s ready, Mitri’s ready, Jesus is ready, Keaton is ready,” Torrent said, rattling off various NYCFC players.
So Moralez chose Medina, who caught Turner guessing the wrong way and finished a comfortable left-footed strike to move New York City a step closer to their first Eastern Conference championship.
“I’m very happy, especially for Jesus,” Torrent said. “In the training session, he convinced me. I don’t choose the players because this is a blonde player or this is a funny player – it’s about the performance in the facility.”
With Moralez suspended for Wednesday’s home match versus Toronto FC due to yellow card accumulation, Torrent hinted that Medina would make his fifth start in 15 games against the Reds.
“I already said to him before this game to be ready for Toronto,” Torrent said.
Johnson returns — and sits
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was released from the U.S. Men’s National Team following the 3-0 loss to Mexico at MetLife Stadium on Friday, and the initial expectation was that the 10-year MLS veteran would be in the XI against New England.
However, that was never Torrent’s plan and Brad Stuver made his fifth start of the season.
Torrent said prior to kickoff against New England that he and goalkeeper coach Rob Vartughian spoke to Johnson about the decision before he left for the national team.
“I told Sean that Brad is training every single day here, and I know what happens when you play with the national team – the focus is not the same — and we spoke with him about that,” Torrent said, adding that Johnson understood the reasoning. “100%, when we talked with him it’s not a problem. It happens in the top teams when the keepers play with the national team. If you have confidence with both, it’s the best way to show the team how important everybody is for me.”