Fullbacks shine for NYCFC as Patrick Vieira's system keeps humming

NEW YORK — Anton Tinnerholm might be new to New York City FC, but the outside back is already an expert in the way Patrick Vieira wants to play.

He showcased that ability on both sides of the ball in a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy on Sunday in the club’s home opener, as NYCFC took six points from their first two matches for the first time in their short history.

Tinnerholm showcased his attacking ability with a sensational left-footed strike in the 22nd minute and was solid defensively in limiting a dangerous Galaxy attack.

But the Swede’s work on the field is just part of his story, according to David Villa. Tinnerholm’s soccer pedigree — he was the 2017 Allsvenskan Defender of the Year for Malmo FF — and his locker room persona are just as valuable.

“He’s a great player for us,” Villa said. “He’s great on the field, which he showed, but he has personality, he’s a leader, he’s a winner because he won in his past in Sweden. He arrived in the beginning of the preseason and he knows everything, the way Patrick wants him to play, in attack and defense.”

Tinnerholm said it was a dream home opener for him, a “super start” that allowed him a rare chance to score a screamer with his left peg.

Perhaps more important, Tinnerholm said, was the obvious understanding and the demonstration of an attacking style that was on display, especially in the first half when NYCFC outshot the Galaxy 9-1 and outpossessed them 70%-30%.

“We have a clear idea of how we want to play and I felt you saw it today, especially in the first half,” Tinnerholm said. “We want to keep the ball on the team. I think a lot of teams are going to have problems when they come here, or even when we are away.”

While Tinnerholm is an upgrade on the right side, there’s a battle of returning players on the left side of defense. Through two games, Ben Sweat has earned a pair of starts and has been impressive, as Costa Rican international Ronald Matarrita, who was effective in an injury-plagued 2017 that saw him make just eight starts, waits for his chance.

Matarrita made his 2018 debut on Sunday, coming off the bench as a replacement for Rodney Wallace in the 89th minute. That’s another option Vieira has going forward.

“He’s got two starting left backs, so whoever he plays, he’s going to get the same out of both of us,” Sweat said. “Mataritta is a great player, so if he puts Mata at left wing and me behind or vice versa, nothing is going to change tactically.”