Following what had been a largely lackluster affair, C.J. Sapong ignited the Union with a wonderful volley turning a surefire 1-0 defeat into a 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium. For a Union team that has so often dropped points this season in the closing minutes, the feeling of stealing one against New York City in the 85th minute must have been a gratifying one.
The Union got the better of the chances in the first half, but not much came out of mostly long-range efforts from both sides. The closest the Union came to scoring were attempts from Fernando Aristeguieta, who sent a long-range effort high and a header direct to City keeper Josh Saunders. City came close to scoring in the first half after David Villa flicked the ball on perfectly in the middle of the box to Mehdi Ballouchy, but in true Ballouchy fashion, he skied it over the bar, wasting an otherwise promising chance against an inexperienced goalkeeper.
To start the second half, Jason Kreis made the rather curious substitution of taking off David Villa, though reportedly it was due to a hamstring injury. Given that and the fact NYCFC host Portland Timbers on Sunday night, perhaps Kreis thought it best to rest his star striker for 45 minutes. No one will doubt Villa is City's star player, but City found themselves increasingly productive upon introducing Kwadwo Poku into the match.
City's flurry of pressure culminated in a goal from the most unlikely of sources: the often-maligned but consistently in MLS Ballouchy unearthed a
wonder decent curling strike from the edge of the box box that got past Union keeper John McCarthy. City had the lead, and when the Union followed things up by taking off their two best attacking players, Fernando Aristeguieta and Eric Ayuk, things looked even bleaker.* Though things would turn out all right with 2nd half substitute C.J. Sapong, the process that led to the decision to take off Aristeguieta and Ayuk instead of Sebastien Le Toux and/or Andrew Wenger is certainly one that inspires confusion.
Though the goal itself wasn't an easily savable shot for McCarthy, his goalkeeping abilities still begged some questioning. In the first half, McCarthy was just a tad overzealous and by a tad overzealous I mean he chased down a ball outside the box setting up a near-scoring chance for New York City. McCarthy would have himself a crowning moment later in the game, but his abilities of reading play and distribution still continue to be weak spots for the young keeper. He has been very fortunate thus far that quality chances against him have been few and far between. Somewhere, a single tear rolls down the cheek of Rais M'Bolhi.
*Le Toux and Wenger played a full 90 minutes despite playing like ass for a full 90 minutes. I don't understand it either.
The Union came close to equalizing 73 minutes into the match where a free kick got deflected to Sheanon Williams whose shot was scoffed but still found its way to Zach Pfeffer. Pfeffer did successfully send it in on goal but Saunders was able to get an arm out and deflect the ball away from the net seemingly on instinct. It was a fine save and appeared to be the closest the Union would get to an equalizer.
However, C.J. Sapong made sure the Union did get the equalizer, and it came in scintillating fashion. Cristian Maidana sent a looping ball into the box deflecting off Maurice Edu. But the deflection went straight to Sapong who took the ball off a bounce and leaped into the air to re-direct it straight into the net. It was a marvelous finish from Sapong, and one that the Union will gladly take. After numerous games where the Union dropped points late in games, the Union will be happy with two games in a row where they rescue point(s) in the final fifteen minutes. Last weekend, they earned a late win. Tonight, they earned a late road draw.
The Union did have one last chance to drop the points as it were, but John McCarthy had his first real moment of quality goalkeeping. With the close of the final minute of stoppage time approaching, Ballouchy got off a long-range shot on target. It was from distance, but fairly well hit and McCarthy did have to dive to make the successful stop he made. It may not have been absolute brilliance, but a quality save from a young keeper is certainly a step in the right direction after making a thorough hash of things in his first 90 minutes as a Union goalkeeper.
The Union will have no rest for the weary as much like NYCFC, the Union's next game is this coming Sunday. But while City get the last place Timbers, the Union get to host the New England Revolution late Sunday afternoon at PPL Park.