NYCFC got on the board first in the 6th-minute courtesy of 5’3” midfielder Maxi Moralez, who got on the end of a near-post cross and beat Tyler Deric, who was in no-man’s land and will take a large share of the blame for the goal. Things remained mostly even though Mauro Manotas provided the answer ten minutes later. Vicente Sanchez caught NYC sleeping on a free-kick near the box, slipping Manotas through for a delightful chip over an onrushing Sean Johnson.
For the next 65 minutes or so, it was back and forth, both clubs getting opportunities but neither able to finish. Manotas and Tommy McNamara missing sitters, Jack Harrison forcing Deric into multiple diving stops, and Johnson stuffing Alberth Elis on a breakaway consisted of the game’s best chances.
Possession was kept almost completely by the “hosts,” as was to be expected, but Houston did their share of passing, centered around No. 10 Tomas Martinez, who looked good coming off the wing. They certainly didn’t try to sit deep and counter as has been their M.O.; they attempted to transition from higher spots and maybe even pass around the final third a bit. It was new, but it kind of worked. Picking up a cross-country 1-1 draw on the road at a top Eastern Conference club is far from a bad result.
Wilmer Cabrera put out a very surprising lineup from the start, moving Alex and Martinez to the two wings of a 4-3-3 and starting Vicente Sanchez in the middle. Cubo Torres and Alberth Elis were benched, while Romell Quioto was left out of the 18 altogether. It was perplexing, odd, and seemingly ill-fated.
As it turned out, Martinez seemed comfortable coming in from the flank, and the 37-year old Sanchez was the Man of the Match in the middle. Flaws were aplenty, with the No. 8 position (filled by Boniek Garcia, who went off with a non-contact knee injury) a weakness and two of the club’s star attackers (Elis and Quioto) left unnecessarily on the bench or out of the 18, but there was plenty of promise shown.
The game was played in Hartford, Connecticut due to a scheduling conflict at Yankee Stadium, so thankfully we got to see this interesting lineup on a real field.