Clean bill of health fueling New York City FC as they start playoff run

BRONX, N.Y. — A memo to the other teams in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs: Beware. New York City FC are back in form.

It might have taken three long months, but the club has returned to the side that for a large chunk of the regular season was among the top three teams in Major League Soccer. That team was on display on Wednesday night as NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 at Yankee Stadium.

It has taken a long time, but NYCFC are now fully fit, giving coach Dome Torrent options he didn’t have for the majority of his time as manager and allows him to put a first-choice starting XI on the field.

That means a midfield of Alex Ring, Yangel Herrera and Maxi Moralez among the very best trios in MLS. It means Moralez is his most influential self, especially with David Villa as an option up front.

“Maybe its our best moment because we recover many players,” Torrent said. “You know we play much better here, but right now we have 23 players. That means you can decide this player plays or you can play in this way or another way. You know how important it is for us when our key men are getting better right now and they are in top form. It’s good news for us.”

On Wednesday night, that meant the inclusion of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who replaced Jesus Medina as the lone change in NYCFC’s starting lineup from the team that beat the Philadelphia Union, 3-1, on Decision Day presented by AT&T.

Tajouri-Shradi, who was limited to just five minutes off the bench in the regular season finale after rolling his ankle at practice, opened the scoring on Wednesday with a sensational left-footed volley in the 10th minute.

“For us now having all hands on deck, there’s a real belief going forward that if we have everyone contribute in the way we know they can I think there’s something really special there for this group,” Sean Johnson said. “We just have to maintain focus and get the job done.”

Villa and Moralez, who both missed time this year to injuries, dominated the young Union defense and scored one goal apiece — Moralez also had a pair of assists — before Cory Burke pulled the visitors back a goal late.

Just three days after playing the full 90 minutes, Herrera went 80 minutes on Wednesday.

“Its not a secret that some players during the season had some small injury, Yangel had a big, big injury, some parts of the season we missed some players who were injured, but now everyone is healthy,” said Villa, who has scored in four consecutive game he’s played in. “We hope that continues during the playoffs. It’s good for Dome because he can choose different options and benefits for the team. It’s really important to have all the people on the roster ready to play.”

The Union bossed the midfield in an impressive 2-0 win at Talen Energy Stadium in August, but the NYCFC team they saw that night was not the same one that had back-to-back dominant victories at Yankee Stadium in October.

“They’re in really good form at the right time and we ran into them, unfortunately, as they got healthy,” Union coach Jim Curtin said. “That was our undoing.”