FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Down four key players – David Villa, Alex Ring, Ronald Matarrita and Rodney Wallace – on Saturday, a battered New York City side came out undefeated through four games.
They largely have Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to thank for that.
The Libyan winger, signed this past offseason from Austria Wien, bagged a brace for NYCFC at the New England Revolution, salvaging a 2-2 draw and 3-0-1 start to the 2018 season. All that came after the 23-year-old scored in last week’s 2-0 home win over Orlando City SC, an eye-opener in Patrick Vieira’s high-press system.
As goalkeeper Sean Johnson sees it, Tajouri-Shradi is just getting started.
“[He’s an] unbelievable talent,” Johnson said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface of what he has and his potential as a player. He works really hard every single day, and all the guys notice that. It shows when he goes out on the field, and he’s producing at the moment which is huge for us.”
Saad Abdul-Salaam, also starting his second game for NYCFC, agreed that Tajouri-Shradi is just scratching the surface. It was Abdul-Salaam who helped jumpstart the winger’s terrific day, too.
In the 51st minute, he drove a low cross for Tajouri-Shradi to sweep home from the penalty spot and erase a 1-0 halftime deficit. Then, after Juan Agudelo’s header put the Revs ahead 2-1 midway through the second half, Tajouri-Shradi's left foot again drew NYCFC level in the 75th, slamming a strike past Matt Turner.
“I’m very happy with my three goals, but I keep going,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “I’m very happy with the team here and that we take the point. Of course I’m happy because I scored two goals, but more that the team played very well and it’s hard to play [at Gillette Stadium].”
Tajouri-Shradi, in part, was convinced of a move to MLS after a chat with New York Red Bulls winger Daniel Royer, who shared time with him at Austria Wien. The kicker, though, has been head coach Patrick Vieira.
“When I came here, I said I wanted to make the next steps because with Patrick I think I can do it,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “He’s a very, very good coach for young players and the old players. We have a very good team and David [Villa] and other players have been key for me here.”
Tajouri made no secret, though, that he’s now focused on New York City's next game, an away match vs. the San Jose Earthquakes on March 31 (ESPN2 - Full TV & streaming info).
In all likelihood, the 23-year-old’s starring role up top will continue, especially as Villa fights off a calf strain, Matarrita recovers from a hamstring injury and Wallace returns from international duty.
“Each game and each day in practice [Tajouri is] getting better and better, so I’m just happy to see him get a chance to show it,” Abdul-Salaam said.