By Joe Pantorno
The long layoff did little to solve NYCFC’s offensive woes as they were blanked yet again in a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Thursday morning in their MLS is Back Tournament opener.
Dating back to their first two matches of the MLS season before the coronavirus hiatus beginning March 12, NYCFC has yet to score.
Alejandro Bedoya’s goal gave Philadelphia an unlikely three points considering NYCFC dominated play for a majority of the match — his 63rd-minute opener just one of four shots on target from the Union on the day.
NYCFC on the other hand had 17 shot attempts, seven of them on target, and had eight corner kicks compared to Philadelphia’s three, but Union keeper Andre Blake was a stalwart in goal.
It was those set pieces that presented New York with its best chances of the first half.
On three separate occasions, New York heads were able to get on the ends of free kicks inside the Philadelphia box, but Keaton Parks, Valentín Castellanos, and Alexander Callens could not make the threat toward the Union goal a threatening one.
A cagy first 45 minutes that was headlined more by aggressive challenges than scoring chances opened up in the second half thanks to the suppressive Orlando heat, players that were still not completely match fit, and an expanded five substitutions instead of three.
Less than three minutes into the first half, slick NYCFC movement saw Castellanos get on the end of a low cross from Jesus Medina, who was subbed on at the half for Parks. But his side-footed effort was parried away by Blake.
It was their best chance of the first 15 minutes as they dictated much of the second half. In doing so, they completely neutralized Philadelphia’s star Brazilian veteran midfielder, Ilsinho, who came off in the 58th minute.
A spellbinding run from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi opened up another chance for Castellanos 61st minute, but his low shot from 20 yards out was fought away by Blake, though he had trouble with it.
NYCFC was made to rue its countless missed opportunities just two minutes later when Bedoya’s shot — Philadelphia’s first real established possession in New York’s half in the second — beat Johnson at a tough angle despite the keeper getting a hand on it. It was Bedoya’s first goal since last September.
Heber, NYCFC’s Brazilian striker who finished fifth in MLS last season with 15 goals, had a golden opportunity to equalize for his club’s first goal of the season. A deflected cross found the wide-open, uni-named forward on the left side of the Union box, but his shot was deflected away by the fingertips of Blake in the 86th minute — a game-saving effort for Philadelphia.
Blake came up enormously yet again in the fifth minute of stoppage time when Gary Mackay-Steven was sent in alone on the Union keeper, but an aggressive rush toward the NYCFC midfielder allowed Blake to cut down the angle and the shot went straight into his mid-section.