C. J. Sapong’s 86th-minute equalizer forces NYCFC to settle for a draw against Philadelphia
By Faraz T. Toor
Facing the Philadelphia Union for the second time in five days, New York City Football Club hoped they could avoid surrendering a late goal and secure three points for the second time this season.
C. J. Sapong had other ideas.
New York’s Mehdi Ballouchy scored a sweet curler, but Sapong’s 86th-minute goal won the Union a point in the Eastern Conference standings, as the teams settled for a 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.
“Any time you play the same team back-to-back, there’s always a little bit of vengeance and rivalry, especially if you lose it late,” New York City goalkeeper Josh Saunders said after the match. “So yeah, it is tough to take another goal late.”
Philadelphia—who beat NYC 2-1 at home, thanks to midfielder Vincent Nogueria’s 92nd-minute winner in the teams’ last match on April 11—got another late point, this time from a forward. Just minutes from stoppage time Thursday, the Union sent a 40-yard pass to defender Maurice Edu in the penalty area.
New York defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe jumped up in front of Edu, but he mistimed his jump and the ball went behind him to Edu, whose header bounced three yards in front of Saunders and found the substitute Sapong on a hop. One-on-one against Saunders, Sapong played the volley off his right foot and into the top right of the net to tie the match, 1-1.
“[It was] just kind of a hopeful ball in the box for them. You give them credit, kind of a second ball situation,” said Saunders, who made six saves in the match. “They were hungry. They wanted to get to it. We didn’t necessarily make the play to clear the ball out of the box. For me, I was just hoping my guy would kick it straight at me…[It] feels like a loss.”
“There’s disappointment, of course,” midfielder Khiry Shelton said. “We’re at home, so [it was] a big thing. I think letting that goal in was unacceptable and we need to do better than that.”
In the 57th minute, midfielder Ballouchy had by far the best shot of the night, and the game’s first goal. Shelton sent him a long pass on the right side, just outside the penalty area. Ballouchy, who had suffered a hard knock to his jaw and ankles in the first half, cut left after he feigned moving right, left a defender behind, and moved into the edge of the penalty area.
Ballouchy then curled an 18-yard shot into the left side of the net with his left foot, past the diving Philadelphia goalkeeper John McCarthy, to give NYCFC a 1-0 lead.
“I had the ball, started driving at the back four, it opened up,” Ballouchy said. “I saw that [Shelton] saw me; he played me through, I faked that I was going to go out, came back in to my left, and fortunately it connected well and ended up going in.”
New York called for a penalty in the 25th minute after two Union defenders appeared to shove Villa down in the penalty area, five yards away from McCarthy—but the referee disagreed.
In the 28th minute, New York City had their best opportunity of the first half. On the near side, just inside the penalty area, a Union defender committed to forward David Villa, who sent a back-heel pass to Ballouchy, who came up the middle.
Ballouchy, unmarked, had a one-on-one with McCarthy. Five yards away from net, he chipped his shot over the goalie’s head, who had committed and dropped down to take the ball. But Ballouchy’s contact was too strong and the shot went over the crossbar by half a foot.
Philadelphia nearly equalized early in the 73rd minute. After New York failed to clear a long Union cross in the edge of the penalty area and instead sent it to Sheanon Williams, the Philadelphia defender passed it low to midfielder Zach Pfeffer. Pfeffer bounced a shot into the ground, which rebounded up and towards the near post before Saunders knocked it down with his left hand.
NYCFC had a few open opportunities for goals in the first half. In the 27th minute, forward Adam Nemec, positioned ten yards in front of McCarthy, sent a header off a cross, but it went over the crossbar by a few inches.
11 minutes later, Villa sent a back-heel pass to Shelton, who made his first start after New York drafted him second overall in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft in January. In the penalty area, Shelton cut inside and past McCarthy, who moved forward, off his line, leaving an open net. Two Philadelphia defenders ran to cover the net, and Shelton’s shot deflected off one of them and back into McCarthy’s arms.
“I thought I played well today—created chances for other guys, had chances myself,” Shelton said. “I have pace. And a lot of people know that, and I think I was able to get behind. And over the time of the game they were dropping off, so people were able to find [me] underneath, so I created chances from there. I was able to stretch them all out.”
Villa came off for Kwadwo Poku at half-time and was not available for post-game interviews.
– Additional reporting by Brian Munguia