Alex Ring is back healthy and patrolling the midfield for New York City FC – a good thing considering the dynamic central attacking presence of Sunday’s opponent.
The unbeaten team from the Bronx (5-0-2, 17 points) traveled to the Pacific Northwest to meet the Portland Timbers. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:18 p.m. EST.
The Timbers (1-3-2, 5 points) won their first match in six tries last Saturday – their home opener – edging Minnesota United 3-2. A renovation project at Providence Park necessitated five road matches to launch the Giovanni Savarese era in the Rose City.
Despite the early season struggles, which included a 4-0 shellacking on Savarese’s homecoming at Red Bull Arena, the former Metrostars striker has an offensive group that awakened against Minnesota and is led by midfielders Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
“They have the freedom to go all over the place to find the game,” NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira told Pro Soccer USA. “We have to be really smart and really good tactically. If we give those two players space, with the talent that they have, they will make it really difficult for us. We have to be compact and tight and keep our eyes on both of them.”
In a holding midfield role, Ring will be locked into his vital defending assignments, although a week ago in Atlanta he presented a gift to his side – his first Major League Soccer goal.
“He can strike the ball – this is a quality he has inside of him,” Vieira said after watching Ring lace a golazo from distance to send NYCFC home from Atlanta with a point. “I don’t expect him to score goals. I want him to work hard for the team and to make it really difficult for the opponent. Against Atlanta he was outstanding – it was nice to see him close to his best.”
In addition to Ring back in full health, it appears that captain David Villa is inclined to put in a full shift in Portland. He was summoned in the 35th minute to replace the injured Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in Atlanta.
“That wasn’t our plan,” Vieira said. “I think the way he came on just shows how he was preparing himself mentally. It is not easy at 36 to come on and do what he did with not doing a proper warmup. That sent a strong message to the players on the bench how you have to prepare yourself because anything can happen. When he came on he completely changed the game for us.”
Villa converted his 18th penalty in 21 MLS attempts just three minutes after his entrance into an intense affair. He had missed three of the previous four matches with calf and groin ailments.
New York City has rallied for results in their last three road matches (one win, two draws) to remain one of two teams without a defeat.
“We have showed our character, quality and organization,” Vieira said. “To go to a place like Atlanta and play the way we did and come from behind twice takes a lot of quality and organization to do it.”
Here is the full interview with Patrick Vieira including Atlanta review, Portland preview and Wenger thoughts.