NEW YORK—Rodney Wallace’s mentality didn’t change, even if his spot on the team did a little more than an hour before New York City FC’s 3-1 victory over Minnesota United FC at Yankee Stadium Thursday night.
“You have to mentally prepare to play from the time the lineup sheet comes out, the practice before the game,” Wallace said. “Even if I’m not on the starting list, I have to prepare as if I’m going to come in and change the game and raise the level in training for my teammates who are starting and for those who aren’t to make sure we’re all in tune and connected because anything can happen.”
Wallace wasn’t in Patrick Vieira’s original starting XI because the NYCFC coach said he felt the Costa Rican “needed to rest a little bit” after a hard-working shift in a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls on Saturday.
The idea was to have Wallace on the substitute’s bench and have fellow Tico Ronald Matarrita start on the wing.
“We just have some rules that we’ve been talking about during our preseason and one of them is that any player who will be late in the team meeting on the day of the game is not going to take part in the game,” Vieira said. “RJ was supposed to start the game, so he went to the bench and Ethan went to the stand.”
And Wallace went back to the wing, where he has been so influential this season for NYCFC. For the second straight game, Wallace picked up an assist when he played a perfect cross to the back post and Jack Harrison headed in what proved to be the winner in the 52nd minute.
Wallace also assisted on Harrison’s first-half goal against Red Bulls.
“I think I’m in a good groove right now, but I have to keep improving,” Wallace said. “There’s always things to improve.”
While Wallace’s insertion into the starting lineup and Matarrita starting at left back was a seamless change, things got complicated when Matarrita went down with what Vieira called a “metatarsal” injury after just nine minutes. Matarrita left Yankee Stadium with his right foot in a boot and under the aid of crutches.
Vieira was forced to scramble and put Mikey Lopez in at right back, while moving Ben Sweat back to his natural left back position. That move, along with Christian Ramirez’s early goal, could have had an adverse affect on NYCFC.
Instead, they rallied again, scoring three unanswered goals, to win their fourth straight game and match a franchise-best for consecutive victories.
It was yet another character win for a team Wallace believes is special.
“We have a special locker room with a bunch of talented guys,” Wallace said. “It’s not just talent alone that wins championships. It’s the bond that we have and our work rate and how much we want it are important keys to winning a championship. That’s our mission and we’re on our way to doing that.”