Mar 4, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; New York City FC midfielder Maximiliano Moralez (10) and New York City FC defender Ben Sweat (2) and New York City FC midfielder Jesus Medina (19) celebrate after a goal against Sporting Kansas City during the first half at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY — Eighty-five minutes into what would soon be a 2-0 loss for Sporting Kansas City, Graham Zusi threw his hands up. Near the baseline, he just had a chance at a ball, as Sporting was running out of time to cut into New York City FC’s lead. But as Zusi went up to take possession, the ball took an awkward bounce and he flubbed possession. His reaction – dropping his head into his open palms – was the perfect representation for the match.
Missed connections, an offense that looked disjointed and a defense that didn’t hold up like the all-league group it was last year all contributed. It was the first time the team lost a home opener at Children’s Mercy Park.
For a relatively new-look offense, it wasn’t altogether surprising that Sporting struggled to piece together chances. But it was the team’s defense – boasting the 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year – that didn’t play up to expectations.
New York pressured from the beginning, pushing for chances and establishing the tempo early.
“We let them build the momentum and then they got confident, and they’re a good team obviously,” Kansas City defender Ike Opara said. “We had an uphill climb from there, even before the goal scored. They were able to dictate the play, which was an anomaly for us at home and from there it just snowballed a bit.”
That first goal from New York brought out textbook David Villa: Finding himself in a one-on-one with Opara near the side of the box, Villa faked Opara out and sent a pass into Maximiliano Moralez. Moralez easily slid it home, and New York took its 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute, in front of an announced crowd of 20,831.
Late in the first half after a flubbed corner kick from Sporting, NYCFC found itself in a breakaway, two-on-zero run-out. Tim Melia stood in goal, nothing left to do but wait for whatever bullet would surely come his way. But for 50 yards, Cristian Lobato gained on NYC’s attack, and he finally knocked the ball away with no time to spare. Despite the 1-0 deficit, it appeared Sporting could exhale a little after Lobato’s recovery.
Then, only six minutes into the second half, NYCFC found more open space behind Sporting’s back line. Ben Sweat chipped a pass into the box, feeding his teammate Jesus Medina a one-on-one with Melia. Medina took a couple shuffles and sent the ball right over Melia’s shoulders, giving New York its comfortable 2-0 lead and eventual win.
“It was kind of like a broken play, one thing after another, the ball squeaking out here, squeaking there,” Vermes said. “But it is what it is.”
Despite Sporting’s lackluster beginning to its season, it was patience Vermes continued to preach.
“As the game went on, Johnny Russell for example got better and better and better,” Vermes said. “He was incredibly dangerous in so many different situations. … He’s getting more familiar. It got better as the game went on, but as I said, it’s going to take a little bit of time to put all the pieces together for sure.”