It was one of the fun game-inside-the-game angles to the Decision Day clash between New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union that turned into a bizarre side note.
Both Heber and Kacper Przybylko were in their respective team’s starting XI, yet both 15-goal scorers picked up injuries in the pregame warmups.
Heber, according to NYCFC coach Dome Torrent felt “discomfort in his calf,” suffered in the last sprint of warmups. Przybylko suffered an ankle injury.
“We decide don’t try to risk because it’s not necessary for us,” Torrent said.
Torrent called on Ronald Matarrita because he said the Costa Rican was “in one of the best forms” since Torrent became the club’s coach midway through last season.
“We can play in different shapes and ‘Mata’ can play absolutely in this system — 4-2-3-1 — because he has quality, he plays like a winger, he has energy all the time, he can help us,” Torrent said. “When you play with these kind of players, in one second you can change the system, you can play with five in the back, for example.”
Matarrita had no time to think, let alone warm up. Torrent called him into the starting XI and the Costa Rican emerged a hero for NYCFC in a 2-1 win over the Union Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium.
“I feel good so I have to be ready every second of the game,” Matarrita told Pro Soccer USA in his first interview in English. “The coach has confidence in me. I have confidence right now. I feel good inside and outside the field. I need the support of my friends, of my teammates and I need to try my best inside the field.”
Matarrita, usually deployed as a left back, moved further up the field as a winger and needed just seven minutes to reward Torrent’s trust in him. He put NYCFC in front with his first goal of the season.
The goal was the product of a great buildup of one-touch passes right from the training pitch, Matarrita said. It started with him playing to Maxi Moralez, who sprayed a ball down the left flank to Ben Sweat. The fullback crossed to the edge of the 18-yard box where Taty Castellanos played into Matarrita.
The ball was slightly behind Matarrita who had to take a touch to set up his right-footed shot he put past Andre Blake from 10 yards out.
“This is part of the game we try a lot in training. It’s a play that teammates played,” Matarrita said. “We play as a team, we play together and we feel good inside the field. it’s easy when you have teammates who understand your style of game and its easy to play with them.”
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi doubled NYCFC’s lead with a deflected shot past Blake in the 22nd minute, but he’d have to leave the field 10 minutes later with a twisted ankle, replaced by Jesus Medina.
“Not the same ankle,” Torrent said, referring to the high ankle sprain that sidelined the winger for nearly three months. “I don’t know. We have a medical team in New York and I don’t know what will happen with these two players.”
NYCFC’s response to the injuries and beating the Union in a game that especially was meaningless for a team that already clinched the top seed in the East spoke volumes of the team’s makeup, according to captain Alex Ring.
“You have to always be ready when you get the chance. Mata usually plays and I still think he came in fantastic,” Ring said. “I don’t know if he even warmed up because I think Heber injured himself in the last sprint. Jesus came on for ‘Isma.’ It’s not easy, but I think that speaks to our character as a team.”
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