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Ronald Matarrita’s perseverance pays off in NYCFC win over Rapids

May 19, 2018; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC defender Ronald Matarrita (22) celebrates his goal against Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) with teammates during the second half at Yankee Stadium. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

BRONX, N.Y. — The celebration spoke volumes.

It told the story of a player who has battled injuries, who has had to fight for his spot on the field.

It spoke of perseverance and pride.

When Ronald Matarrita put a looping header past Tim Howard in the 49th minute, it was so much more than just the goal to put New York City FC up 2-0 over the Colorado Rapids Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

It was about personal redemption and it came at the ideal time for Matarrita, who has one game remaining with NYCFC before playing in his first World Cup with Costa Rica in Russia.

“It’s been a difficult year with injuries, but God has a plan for all of us,” Matarrita said through a translator. “Personally, I had to become mentally strong to recover, but now that I’m back, I’m making a team effort and working hard toward the World Cup, putting in good performance for the club and the national team.”

There is nothing worse for a player than being injured, David Villa said in the locker room, and Matarrita has had more than his share of experience in that department.

“When you’re injured, your mind changes a lot,” Villa said. “Mata had a few injuries during his period in NYCFC. He’s a really good player, a really good guy.

“It’s important for him to get confidence, not only to score a goal, not only to have a good game, but to play and play and play without getting injured again — because you get afraid after you have an injury.”

Matarrita is deeply religious and he’s had to lean on his faith to help him through the dark days training alone or working in the gym while his teammates were on the training ground.

He broke his foot a year ago, missing three months in the middle of the season. That came after a high ankle sprain sidelined him for eight games.

This season, Matarrita lost the starting left back battle to Ben Sweat and then suffered a hamstring injury against Orlando City SC on March 17 that kept him out of two matches for club and country. That injury was particularly stressful coming so close to World Cup selection.

Suddenly, it appeared, his World Cup dream could turn into a nightmare.

“It’s been difficult to regain fitness and then get injured again, but that’s when the mentality comes in,” Matarrita said. “I’ve had a strong mentality, and also with the help of my teammates and the staff, they’ve helped me get to the position where I’m back and playing on the field again.”

Saturday’s 4-0 win over Colorado was just the third start of 2018 for Matarrita, who played the entire 90 minutes for just the second time in more than a calendar year.

“Mata has been really unlucky with the injuries, with the performances as well of Ben [Sweat], and he’s always been positive, keeps working hard,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said. “He was quite a bit tired at the end, but it’s good that he managed to play the 90 minutes.”

Matarrita actually started the sequence that led to his first goal of the season, playing a ball on the wet grass to the feet of Villa, who dummied to Jo Inge Berget. The duo played a quick one-two to send the Norwegian in on Howard, who came off his line to make the save. The ball popped out to Matarrita, who continued his run, and he headed past Howard from 13 yards out.

What followed was a wild celebration several frustrating months in the making.

“Of course it was very emotional,” Matarrita said. “I was very satisfied to be on the pitch and help the team putting in a good game and also a goal. But also working hard collectively to keep improving.”

May 19, 2018; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC forward David Villa (7) celebrates his goal against the Colorado Rapids with during the first half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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