This was a game decided by defense.
The normally solid Philadelphia Union back line was pulled apart by Santiago Rodríguez, Richy Ledezma, and the rest of the New York City FC attack when Gabriel Pereira scored in the 30th minute, but that turned out to be the only lapse they made that evening. Rather, it was the only lapse that counted against them. NYCFC found a way to create chances, and get off shot after shot, only for Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake to make save after clutch save.
Let’s go to the numbers: Five saves, three high claims, and nine recoveries. Blake allowed just one goal, comfortably outperforming his xOGT of 1.72. If a more standard-issue MLS keeper had been playing, he might have allowed another one or two goals.
Which is exactly what happened on the other end of the totally regulation-sized field.
NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza had his moments, but he didn’t always come through. And those few moments when Barraza can’t live up to the super-human standards of a Blake was the difference between a win and a loss. Barraza had three saves, two high claims, and nine recoveries. Barraza allowed three goals: When he underperformed his xOGT of 2.38, it was because of those two saves that he didn’t make.
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This isn’t to put New York City’s 1-3 home loss solely at the feet of Barraza. There is plenty of blame to go around — from a midfield that let Philadelphia set up a goal in first-half stoppage time then let them do the exact same thing less than two minutes later, to the sloppy giveaways by Keaton Parks, to Santiago’s Rodriguez’s disinterest in defending, to NYCFC sporting director David Lee nominally replacing Golden Boot-winner Taty Castellanos with a 22-year-old striker who didn’t notch a single goal in the 13 professional games he played before moving to MLS. There are lots of issues to address in this NYCFC side.
But a match like this one is determined by confidence shared by the teammates as much as the quality of the play of the field. An NYCFC that was up 2-0 after 35 minutes would be less likely to concede as easily as they did: Blake’s diving saves didn’t just preserve the scoreline, they kept Philadelphia’s head in the game.
It must be nice to have that kind of player on your team.