New York City FC remain undaunted by obstacles, stay unbeaten this season

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Even the last-minute disappearance of David Villa from the starting lineup isn’t enough to derail New York City FC right now.

With their superstar captain sidelined by an unspecified problem that cropped up during pre-match warmups, NYCFC nevertheless rebounded from a one-goal deficit at halftime to turn in a second consecutive road comeback – this time a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium on Saturday.

NYCFC (4-0-1) remained unbeaten in 2018 behind second-half goals from Anton Tinnerholm and – albeit with a helpful deflection – Maximiliano Morález. San Jose (1-2-0) have taken just one point out of 12 since NYCFC joined MLS in 2015.

“I always believe good teams don’t just play well. They fight when it’s time to fight,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said. “And I think when we got to the last 15, 20 minutes, it was really difficult and we put our sleeves up and we fought for each other. This is the character that we need to show.”

The visitors actually bossed the game for long stretches after San Jose center back Yeferson Quintana glanced home a too-easy header from a third-minute corner kick. Jo Inge Berget, dropped into the starting lineup to replace Villa, provided an outlet as NYCFC controlled 68.2 percent of possession in the first half.

“I think this is a lot of credit to the players because that wasn’t our plan in the beginning of the week,” Vieira said. “Ben [Sweat, NYCFC’s usual left back] traveled with us but wasn’t feeling well, he has the flu, so we made the decision not to play him this morning. David was feeling good and after the warmup, he was feeling something that couldn’t allow him to be on the field. And I think the players who wasn’t supposed to start the game, I think they prepared well mentally and I think it’s all a credit to them.”

NYCFC quickly found an equalizer through Tinnerholm’s thunderous corner-kick volley off the crossbar in the 49th minute, his second goal in three MLS appearances since coming over from Swedish side Malmo FF in December. It was a right-footed bookend to the left-footed screamer he fired home in his last match, March 11 against the LA Galaxy.

“You guys have to believe that I’m a monster, but I haven’t scored any goals like this in 25 years,” said Tinnerholm, who name-checked a certain countryman. “It’s a new tradition started. I was inspired by Zlatan earlier today. … Now I’ve scored one banger with the right, one with the left. Patrick can stop talking about [how] I have two left feet.”

Morález finished off the comeback by snapping home a shot off a pullback from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 60th minute.

“I think we were really calm, we were composed and at the end, we got the result that we wanted,” Vieira said.

Now NYCFC can enjoy some much-needed rest before hosting Real Salt Lake on April 11. By then, they can hopefully shine more light publicly on what felled Villa.

“It’s too early to talk about it,” Vieira said. “I think we need a little bit more time to go back to New York and do more exams before getting any kind of conclusion. … Wait a couple of days.”