David Villa returns, but NYCFC flex their attacking depth in rout of RSL

HIGHLIGHTS: New York City FC vs. Real Salt Lake | April 11, 2018

BRONX. N.Y. — The book on New York City FC in the first three years of their existence was pretty simple. 

While there were players battling for spots in virtually every position on the field, David Villa was the striker. He was the one scoring the goals. 

And when the Spanish legend wasn’t on the field? 

Good luck. 

That narrative changed this year. Sure, Villa is still one of the league’s top scorers even at age 36. But NYCFC have scoring answers now, a lot of them, when Villa is unable to play.

They’ve received scoring from seven players this year, including Jo Inge Berget and Ebenezer Ofori, who each scored their first MLS goal in a 4-0 rout of Real Salt Lake Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. 

The depth this year is clear, and the scoring threats are from everywhere. 

“When he’s not playing we can’t replace him,” Berget said of Villa. “We need to do things another way. I think we show now that we’ve got many players on the team that can score goals. You’ve got Ismael [Tajouri-Shradi] off to a really good start, Jesus [Medina] as well, Maxi [Moralez] banging in the goals as well. I think we’ve shown we’ve got many players who can score. I think as a team that’s important. If it’s only David doing the goal scoring, it’s quite easy to defend against. I think we showed now we have more strings to play on.”

The numbers in Villa’s first three seasons bear that out, showing how much NYCFC relied on their captain for scoring. He had 18 goals in 2015, 37 percent of his team’s output. In 2016 he netted 23 goals, 37 percent of NYCFC’s total and last year Villa bagged 22 goals, good for 39 percent of his team’s scoring. 

Villa has been a workhorse in his first three seasons, never playing fewer than 30 games in a season. But Berget was brought in from Malmo, in part, to provide more depth in the attacking unit for times, like the early part of this season, when Villa was unable to play due to injury. 

Villa missed three consecutive games after suffering a quad injury against the LA Galaxy. His team was 2-0-1 in those games and scored six goals. Villa trained fully this week, but with the deepest squad he’s had yet, Vieira didn’t need to push Villa back against RSL, especially with a showdown in Atlanta coming Sunday (6 pm ET | FS1). Instead, Villa came off the bench and played 31 minutes, getting a couple good looks on goal himself in his return.

Berget, who has had a slow start to his MLS career because of preseason injuries, earned his third consecutive start and was rewarded with his first goal in the 41st minute. 

Ronald Matarrita cut inside after receiving a pass from Ofori and poked the ball forward to Medina, who freed Berget on goal with one flick. Berget did the rest, taking two touches before finishing clinically inside the far post to give NYCFC a commanding 3-0 lead. 

“It was a nice feeling and a good goal,” Berget said. “I think I showed a lot of me in that goal. I like to go in behind and the pass was good and the finish was good.”

According to Anton Tinnerholm, Berget’s teammate at Malmo, the bearded Norwegian is just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of doing at NYCFC. At Malmo, he was a bit of a jack of all trades, playing wide on the left as well as up top. But most importantly, Tinnerholm said, he always put in the work. 

“I know his quality because I played with him at Malmo for several years. When you come to a new club, you’re starting from zero,” Tinnerholm said. “I think it’s important for him and for us that he shows he can score goals. He always does really great work on the pitch. I think he’s the guy who runs the most in the games.”