Inter Miami's modest winning streak is over; the run of clean sheets, too. Christopher McVey's 36th-minute own-goal was all New York City FC needed to earn its first win of 2023 in a chilly home-opener in the Bronx.
Six quick thoughts after the match:
Welcome to the New Year
OK, Herons fans, we can let out our collective breaths. It's fun to read about Inter Miami's strong start, to see the words "Supporter's Shield" bandied about in the same articles, and to see La Rosanegra sniffing the top of some power rankings. But did anybody really think our boys are THAT team? Saturday’s loss burst a few bubbles and, of course, it's disappointing. Now let's move on to the rest of what promises to be an exciting season.
Don't Call It a Rematch
Technically, the contest WAS a rematch of last year's first-round Eastern Conference playoff game, won 3-0 by NYCFC at CitiField (the Big Apple's OTHER big-time baseball stadium), but neither team is what it was in October. Super striker Gonzalo Higuain retired and Inter Miami chose not to re-sign playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo. City said farewell to several mainstays from the team that won the MLS Cup in 2021, most notably goalkeeper Sean Johnson, forward Taty Castellanos, and midfielder Maxi Morales.
McVey gets a pass
The 25-year-old Swedish defender has been dependable since joining the Herons, leading the club with 3,040 minutes split between center back and left wingback in 2022. He has played all 270 minutes so far in 2023. The own goal came on a set piece; Santi Rodriguez booted an inswinger into the box toward big defender Maxime Chanot, rumbling toward keeper Drake Callender on the left side of the Herons' goal. McVey jumped and extended his right leg, intent on denying Chanot; his effort clipped the ball by Callender, who could only watch as the ball sailed into the back of the net: 1-0 Pigeons. It happens. I have every confidence McVey will shake off his mistake and continue to partner with Callender and newcomer Serhiy Kryvtsov to anchor the Pink and Black's defensive spine.
Josef Martinez is alive and well
The 2018 MLS MVP was in an offside position when he made what would have been his first Miami goal, then blasted a beautiful feed from Rodolfo Pizzaro high over the net from just yards away. Josef was more active tonight, although his fitness and timing are still a little off. He managed three shots, two on target. The Herons' were looking for their new striker more, it seemed, but often after moving the ball inside, creating difficult angles. Martinez likes to sit in the middle at the top of the box and get service from the wings. Still, tonight's performance was promising; Martinez has played just three matches with his new teammates, and none with new strike partner Leo Campana, still sidelined with a calf injury. There are 31 left to play. I have to believe we'll see good production from the Venezuelan sooner rather than later.
Drake Callender needs to be on the USMNT's radar
The Herons' 25-year-old keeper, an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year finalist during his 2022 breakout season, saved seven more shots Saturday, several of the highlight variety. In 2023, he's saved 17 of 18 shots on goal; the one he didn't wasn't his fault. The Apple+ announcers took notice, with former MLS player Calen Carr suggesting Callender's play deserves a call-up to the national team. We couldn't agree more.
Yankee Stadium is a pinball soccer field
The novelty is gone. Whatever mystique the House That Ruth Built has for the Pinstripes does not translate to soccer. At 70-by-110 yards, NYCFC's home field is the smallest in Major League Soccer. Calling it "compact" is generous. On the one hand, it does create more action; unfortunately, the tighter spaces create narrower passing angles and less room to maneuver. I was impressed that either team managed to find playing room, albeit it briefly and in spurts. The City overlords can't build their new stadium fast enough.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Yes, we lost. It happens. But I thought the team played well given it was on the road for the first time this season, on a cold spring night, in front of a raucous home crowd in an unconventional venue. I am disappointed with the loss, but not with the team. We go again next week, another road test, in Toronto, another cold-weather city. While unsuccessful tonight, this effort against the Reds will keep us competitive and give us a chance to win. For now, that's all I expect.