David Villa makes early exit, with NYCFC seeking "physicality" & fresh legs

TORONTO—If there’s been one constant for New York City FC since their inception, and certainly in their turnaround second season in Major League Soccer, it’s the play of star striker David Villa.

The Spanish legend is a two-time MLS All-Star, scoring 41 goals in 63 appearances, including 23 this season that put him one goal behind MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips in the final goalscoring charts.

But in the club’s biggest game – its first postseason appearance – Villa was largely a non-factor and was substituted for just the second time in 2016, this time in a 2-0 loss to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1 at BMO Field.

Villa came off in the 78th minute in favor of second-year forward Khiry Shelton.

“I just wanted to bring some more fresh legs up front, as well as some height because I thought we struggled a bit holding the ball,” said NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira. “I just wanted to bring a bit more of a physical presence up front.”

Before Sunday night, Villa had thrived against Toronto FC, scoring six goals in four appearances, including a first-half brace in a 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium this season.

But that was quite the contrast to his showing at BMO Field on Sunday. Villa put two shots on target, but never truly threatened Toronto FC goalkeeper Clint Irwin. Stunningly, he had just 30 touches during his whole time on the field; per Opta, he has only had fewer than 30 touches in six of his 61 career MLS starts.

Perhaps frustrated by his lack of scoring chances, Villa was feisty throughout and even lashed out at TFC midfielder Armando Cooper, kicking him from behind in the first half, though he managed to avoid making it into Silviu Petrescu’s notebook.

Vieira didn’t blame Villa or the lack of service the NYCFC captain received.

It was a combination of both.

“It’s difficult to put a finger on something specific,” Vieira said. “I think I need to watch the game again, but David didn’t touch many balls. The service could be better, his movement as well could be better to get that service. I think it's more general than individual. I was just looking to put a bit more physicality up front. That’s why I changed him with Khiry.”