On a dreary and wet evening in the Bronx, United went up against one of the best teams in the league and earned a point in Yankee Stadium. It wasn’t the prettiest match by any means, but with a shorthanded roster and less than ideal conditions, it was a point that went a long way as the Black-and-Red look forward to their possibly season-defining seven-game home stand that starts this Wednesday.
“It’s a great point. We had guys playing out of position, and a lot of players did a little bit extra throughout the game to find a way to get something out of this,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said. “I thought it was one of those games where we could have stolen all three points, but in the end we’ll take a point."
The Black-and-Red were without several regular contributors Saturday in the Bronx due to international call-ups and injuries. Among those missing for international duty were Paul Arriola (United States), Júnior Moreno (Venezuela), Zoltán Stieber (Hungary) and Bruno Miranda (Bolivia). United also missed starting XI regulars Oniel Fisher and Yamil Asad who were both dealing with injuries. Though Arriola and Mattocks will be back for Wednesday's match against Minnesota, United will still be shorthanded.
Despite dealing with absences as well, NYCFC didn’t make things easy for United, as they controlled the match from a possession standpoint and made the Black-and-Red chase the ball throughout.
That didn’t stop United from opening the scoring when United captain Wayne Rooney launched a free kick from about 40 yards out that found Steven Birnbaum in front of the net. Birnbaum was able to beat New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the air and nod home his second goal of the season to put the Black-and-Red up 1-0.
Though New York fought back, United were able to handle the pressure and for the most part contain New York’s attack. Thanks to United’s disciplined defensive shape, they kept New York away from dangerous spots and made sure goalkeeper Bill Hamid had clear eyes on any shots heading his way. The Black-and-Red had their game plan, and they stuck to it.
“On days like that can we get something out of the game through grit, work rate and selflessness,” Olsen said. “That’s what I asked the team and that’s what they gave me. I’m very proud of the group."
Hamid shined throughout the match, recording eight saves in total, his highest in a single match since a 1-0 victory against the Montreal Impact on Aug. 8, 2015. Other than David Villa’s free kick, which just missed Hamid's outstretched reach, the Homegrown hero kept United at pace with NYCFC throughout the difficult night.
“It’s a tough environment to play in,” Hamid said. “The pitch is not very good at all and the weather made it a little slick. We made the most of it and got a point."
United captain Wayne Rooney, who picked up his sixth MLS assist during the draw, knows every point is critical in the push for the playoffs and commended the team on buckling down and not getting frustrated against New York.
“The defense was brilliant tonight, unfortunately we conceded the goal, but a point overall away from home is a good point,” Rooney said. “I thought the lads did really well defensively, needed a bit more going forward, but it was a difficult game for us.”
Now with a seven-game homestand at Audi Field set to begin on Wednesday, United have put themselves in a position to control their own destiny and seize the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Though Saturday’s game wasn’t pretty, the group knew the point set themselves up in a prime position for their upcoming home stretch at Audi Field.
“Let’s hope for seven wins,” Hamid said.