Perhaps it was a blessing that NYCFC dropped a 1-0 decision to the New York Cosmos in fourth-round action of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, two weeks ago, because since that ignominious defeat, City has looked like a different outfit. 

Heading into the Open Cup, NYCFC had a four-game winless stretch in Major League Soccer action, including the embarrassing 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. 

But since that break in action to take on the North American Soccer League Cosmos, City has managed to string together two-straight impressive wins, including a 3-2 over the Eastern Conference’s leader, the Philadelphia Union. 

This bit of good play is just what NYCFC needed, as they prepare for their Red Bulls rematch, July 3, at Yankee Stadium. The previous contest was also at the Stadium – a game which now has many nicknames, such as the “Hudson River Massacre” and the “Red Bull Wedding.” Returning to the scene of the crime is perfect for a Red Bulls squad that’s never lost to City in the four games they’ve squared off since NYCFC came into the league, last season. 

City, on the other hand, is trying all it can to put that last shellacking in the past, as they have bigger goals than just avenging a loss – as ugly and embarrassing as it was. NYCFC is back in the Eastern Conference race, thanks to its current winning streak. So, knocking off the two teams they’re battling for conference supremacy in a week’s time would really put City in prime position to reclaim the top spot. And the three points earned in victory will do just that.      

NYCFC is currently just two points behind the Union (26 points) and one ahead of the Red Bulls. A win over their cross-rover rivals would not only atone for all the losses, but also put further distance against their series superiors and hinder its chances at winning the conference.  

It’s no coincidence that City’s fortunes have started to turn just as the team’s three high-paid designated European stars have also seemingly turned the corner as a trio. Frank Lampard, whose two goals this season have come in the past two games, has shaken the doldrums. Andrea Pirlo also found the back of the net in the win against the Union. David Villa, the league’s leading goal-scorer, hasn’t had the same tribulations as the other two, but when he also scored in the Philadelphia match, it seemed like all was right again with City. 

Pirlo has been pleased with the recent goal-scoring stretch, but noted the fact that everyone is chipping in and doing the little things to win matches is what’s really important.  

He believes it can carry over into their pivotal Sunday match.  

“I hope in the future we can perform like that again,” Pirlo said, mentioning the Union and Sounders wins. “The goals were great. But once again the most important thing is the overall performance.”

The Lampard-Pirlo-Villa axis will surely need to continue its long-awaited ascension if they want to finally knock off a Red Bulls squad that’s historically owned them. But, as Pirlo said, City will need to play as one unit – something the Red Bulls have continued to display with each victory in this lopsided series. 

Blue notes:

  • Through 17 games of the 2016 season, NYCFC now has the most road victories of any team in MLS, with four. 
  • Kwadwo Poku, a midfielder and a fan favorite of the City fans, has had his contract rights sold to Miami FC of the North American Soccer League. The reported fee was upwards of $750,000. Poku had quickly established himself as a favorite of the fans – particularly the famed and raucous bleacher crowd known as the “Third Rail” – upon his arrival in 2015, but he’s struggled in 2016. Last season, Poku had four goals and seven assists in 27 appearances, with 21 coming off the bench. The Ghanaian has struggled to find his spot on the field this season, however, as he only made seven appearances, including just 268 minutes and one goal. The writing on the wall was Saturday’s match in Seattle, when Poku wasn’t on the gameday roster.