D.C. United’s miserable 2020 season held to form tonight, as they lost 4-1 on the road against New York City FC. After both teams scored from the penalty spot in the first half, NYCFC rode a three-goal outburst after halftime to a victory that was never in doubt once the home side took their lead back. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored twice for the Pigeons in an eight-minute span early in the second half.
The game’s kickoff was delayed by 15 minutes due to United’s late arrival at the stadium after a player tested positive for the novel coronavirus. That news, first reported by The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer and Paul Tenorio, resulted in additional testing that slowed the team’s departure from a New York City hotel to Yankee Stadium. Per Steven Goff of The Washington Post, that testing confirmed the initial positive test.
Despite that confirmed case and the demonstrable realities of how long it takes someone to test positive after being exposed to Covid-19, the game was still played.
United conceded in the 4th minute on the weekend in what turned out to be a calamitous loss, and they did the exact same thing to start this game. NYCFC had time to combine at the top of the box, and as Valentin Castellanos ran onto a through ball inside the box, Julian Gressel’s attempt to cut his run off ended up sending the Argentine forward tumbling to the ground. Referee Drew Fischer immediately pointed to the spot, and Castellanos dispatched the kick himself, shooting low to Bill Hamid’s right to make it 1-0.
Last week, United folded; this time, they offered up a response. Griffin Yow won a free kick that became a corner, and from there Fischer awarded another penalty kick. As Gressel’s inswinger came in, Donovan Pines headed the ball back into the mixer, but Fischer said that the ball struck Castellanos in the upper arm. Despite the home side’s protests, Ola Kamara used a stutter-step to fool Sean Johnson before tucking home the resulting 12th minute spot kick, breaking a 284-minute scoreless run for the Black-and-Red.
The Pigeons were holding virtually all of the possession, though, and inevitably United was forced to do a lot of last-ditch defending. A wild 18th minute sequence saw Hamid produce a save before Axel Sjöberg, in the lineup due to the absences of Steven Birnbaum (ankle) and Frederic Brillant (suspension), blocked two different shots amid the chaos.
United was showing more bite than they had in recent games, but were still having to defend for long stretches. Alexander Ring’s shot from close range in the 33rd minute was a major threat, but Sjöberg again managed to produce a timely deflection to guide the ball over the goal. During first half stoppage time, NYCFC wanted another penalty kick after James Sands went down during a scramble, but Fischer was not interested.
Despite those looks, and despite finishing the half with nearly 78% of the possession and 16 shot attempts, NYCFC looked frustrated as United managed to stay organized. The Black-and-Red blocked nine shots in the first half, showing some resolve and mental toughness.
The second half was not so kind. The intense pressure continued, and finally cost United in the 55th minute as Fischer once again pointed to the spot. This time, Ring crossed from the left, and as Sjöberg slid in to block the cross, the ball struck his trailing hand. If it felt like bad luck for United, they got even worse news on the penalty kick itself: Hamid guessed correctly and got a hand to Ismael Tajouri-Shradi’s shot, but the ball had enough power to carom into the goal anyway.
Tajouri-Shradi made it 3-1 just eight minutes later after NYCFC put together their best attack of the night. This time, Castellanos dropped off the front line before spraying the ball wide to Anton Tinnerholm, who delivered a perfect ball for Tajouri-Shradi as the Libyan winger knifed through a seam in United’s back five before poking the ball past Hamid from close range.
Ben Olsen, possibly sensing that fatigue was threatening to increase the gap on the scoreboard, turned to his bench, and the changes did start to carve out some looks. Two chances about eight minutes apart saw Gressel send the first over the bar, and then fire the second look tamely at Johnson after Rivas helped the ball to him in a promising spot.
However, there was still time for Keaton Parks to pad NYCFC’s lead, flicking a clever header across goal and in in the 88th minute after Gudmunder Thorarinsson picked him out from the left wing. Hamid then made a strong save on Castellanos, then made another stop on a corner before the Pigeons, pouncing on the rebound before anyone in black, ended up shooting just wide.
United will look for any sort of positive this coming Sunday, as they travel to face the Chicago Fire for the first time all year.
NYCFC (4231): Sean Johnson; Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Ronald Matarrita (Jesus Medina 86); James Sands, Keaton Parks (Nicolas Acevedo 91+); Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (Tony Rocha 86), Alexander Ring (C), Gary Mackay-Steven (Gudmundur Thorarinsson 73); Valentin Castellanos
DCU (541): Bill Hamid; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse (C), Axel Sjöberg (Chris Odoi-Atsem 81), Donovan Pines, Oniel Fisher (Joseph Mora 72); Griffin Yow (Erik Sorga 81), Junior Moreno, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes (Yamil Asad 64); Ola Kamara (Gelmin Rivas 72)
NYCFC - Castellanos 83
DCU - Olsen 10 (on bench)