Weary travelers NYCFC contending with lengthy road trip

Feb 27, 2022; Carson, California, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Javier Hernandez (14) heads the ball against New York City during the second half at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

NYCFC, the defending MLS champions, started their season on the wrong foot Sunday with a 1-0 loss to LA Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park in Los Angeles — yielding a stoppage-time winner to Mexican legend Javier Hernandez.

This was never going to be an easy task to start the season across the country against one of the stronger sides in the Western Conference. But NYCFC has been on quite the long, winding road away from the Bronx leading up to the start of the 2022 MLS season — which has certainly impacted the way they’ve been able to prepare.

During preseason ramp-ups, NYCFC played friendlies in Montreal and Mexico. Their Round of 16 matchup against Costa Rican side Santos de Guápiles featured a first-leg 2-0 win in Costa Rica before a second-leg 4-0 victory on Feb. 23 — just four days before their season opener.

All the while, they didn’t go home once. Because their home at Yankee Stadium wasn’t a CONCACAF-approved venue and nearby Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ was undergoing pitch renovations, NYCFC’s home leg of the Champions League Round of 16 was played out in Los Angeles so they didn’t have to go far before the league season began. 

Whether that played a part in a difficult opener on Sunday is out of head coach Ronny Deila’s jurisdiction.

“I don’t know, it’s impossible to answer,” he said. “We didn’t play bad, we played good in many ways. We played a really good football team, so playing LA away in LA is a tough game, they had a full house. We controlled them very well, they have quality players but in the end, they got the chance they needed and he (Chicharito) scored.”

NYCFC had its opportunities to poach the points on the road, but there appeared to be some rust — or sleep in the eyes — that still needs to be shaken off.

“A little more precision in the final third and we could have scored in the first half,” midfielder Alfred Morales said. “We had everything under control and at the end of the game they built some pressure with the atmosphere, with the stadium, with the fans. To be honest, I am very disappointed with the loss because I really believe that we played a good game and we should have gotten some kind of reward, maybe a draw. It’s the first game of the season, we have to keep going and build on it next week.”

There still are some miles to log before NYCFC returns home. They head to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps next week before the first leg — which is considered a home game — of the Champions League quarterfinal against Guatemalan side Comunicaciones on March 8 in Connecticut. 

They won’t see Yankee Stadium until March 12 against Montreal.