New York City FC look to begin a final push towards claiming the top spot in the Eastern Conference on Saturday when they put their six-match unbeaten streak on the line versus the San Jose Earthquakes.
NYCFC (15-9-5) are three points clear of the Philadelphia Union for first in the East with five matches to play, with reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United three points further back with a match in hand. The Bronx Blues had a five-match winning streak snapped Wednesday at home versus Toronto FC but emerged with a valuable point in a feisty 1-1 draw.
The phrase “bloodied but not beaten” took on a literal form for striker Valentin Castellanos, who got tangled up with Reds defender Chris Mavinga in second-half stoppage time as the two battled for possession in the Toronto penalty area. Castellanos tugged on Mavinga’s jersey and Mavinga hit Castellanos in the face while flailing to the ground, leaving Castellanos bleeding profusely.
No penalty was called on the play, with referee Chris Penso – who had already whistled NYCFC for two penalties – explaining to the pool reporter a penalty could not be awarded for an offense that occurred when the ball was not in play.
Alexandru Mitrita and Alejandra Pozuelo traded first-half goals, but it was NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson that preserved the point in the 78th minute when he punched out Pozuelo’s second penalty attempt. The result also extended NYCFC’s home unbeaten streak to six matches (5-1-0), leaving coach Dome Torrent satisfied.
“I am happy because in the last six games of 18 points we got 16 points…It is good news for us, that is the reason now that we are in the top of the [Eastern Conference] and we will try to finish in the first position,” Torrent told the league’s official website.
New York City FC will again be without first-choice striker and leading goal-scorer Heber, who is sidelined with a quad injury and may miss the remainder of the regular season. Mitrita has picked up some of the scoring slack, scoring two goals and adding an assist in his last three matches.
San Jose (13-5-11) still has designs on hosting a first-round playoff game as it enters this contest in fifth place on 44 points but just two out of second. The Earthquakes are looking to avoid a fifth straight road loss after absorbing a 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night.
It marked the second straight shutout loss for San Jose on the road, where it has tallied just 17 of its 48 goals while claiming 12 points from 14 matches (3-3-8). The ‘Quakes had just three shots on target, a stark contrast from the 28 they unloaded in back-to-back home wins over Vancouver and Orlando City while scoring six goals.
“The game was a mixed bag. I thought there was some really good combination play, especially on the flanks and getting it in,” striker and MLS all-time leading goal-scorer Chris Wondolowski said to the club’s official website. “But I think we kind of missed that final pass. Also, there were a couple of times to pull the trigger and take a shot or get it on frame, and we didn’t quite do that or do it in a timely manner.”
Wondolowski, who leads San Jose with 13 goals, has scored just once in four matches versus NYCFC, converting a penalty in a 3-2 loss in the first meeting between the teams in 2015.
The Bronx Blues are unbeaten in four all-time matchups with the ‘Quakes (3-1-0) and rallied for a 2-1 victory at San Jose last year as Maxi Moralez set up Anton Tinnerholm’s goal four minutes into the second half before scoring the go-ahead marker on the hour.
(Sean Johnson photo courtesy Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)