WITH the whiff of popcorn in the cold Mancunian air, St Mirren were last night shown how to “scrimmage” as New York City marked their first-ever match with a victory over the Scottish Premiership side at Manchester City’s new 7,000-seater Academy Stadium.
The New York website, billing the match on its homepage yesterday, had a message inviting those who couldn’t attend to “watch New York scrimmage St Mirren” via a live internet feed.
Those who turned up to watch the match in person were treated to a decent friendly in which St Mirren held their own but were ultimately unable to recover from a first-half opener from Spanish superstar David Villa, the game’s star attraction.
For New York, the new Major League Soccer franchise part-owned by Manchester City, this competitive friendly provided an encouraging start to preparations for their league opener against fellow newcomers Orlando City Soccer Club next month.
In the absence of former England midfielder Frank Lampard, who controversially extended his loan deal with City until the end of the English Premier League season, it was left to World Cup winner Villa to bring the stardust. The 33-year-old is captain of the new MLS outfit and started in attack.
A vocal bunch of St Mirren fans made the journey to Manchester to take the game in, while the rest of the crowd appeared to be made up of curious Mancunian interlopers. We only had to wait four minutes to see Villa prominently involved, as he saw a powerful 20-yard shot deflected just past. New York were controlling the early play and a ninth-minute header from Moroccan Mehdi Ballouchy was straight at St Mirren goalkeeper Marian Kello.
St Mirren gradually grew into the game and, after 11 minutes, John McGinn rasped a powerful low shot just wide after Jason Naismith’s cross had broken to him 20 yards out.
At the other end, Colombian Sebastian Velasquez had a shot from the edge of the box saved by Kello. McGinn then went close again in the 13th minute with a glancing header from a Jim Goodwin cross clutched by goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
Saints almost went ahead in the 20th minute when Naismith’s cross fell to James Dayton, but the winger’s powerful low blast was clutched at the second attempt by Saunders.
Saints had been comfortably holding their own, but they fell behind in 33 minutes when Marc McAusland failed to cut out a cross and Villa pounced to stab home his team’s first-ever goal from close range.
Just before the interval, Villa had the crowd in raptures as he nutmegged Goodwin in the middle of the park. Instead of going for physical retribution, however, the St Mirren man simply recovered possession seconds later, breezing away from the Spaniard, while playfully signalling 1-1 with his fingers.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a decisive outcome in this particular duel, as Villa was one of nine New York players replaced at the interval. Steven Thompson was the only St Mirren player who didn’t reappear for the second half.
With so many changes, the pace of the game dropped early in the second half, although Goodwin did ping a 20-yarder just over the bar. St Mirren made a raft of changes in the second half which included the introduction of January signings Emmanuel Sonupe and Kieran Sadlier and trialist Alan Gow. However, they fell further behind in 69 minutes when Tony Taylor, wearing No 99 on his back, latched on to a long ball and thumped a half-volley past Kello from 12 yards out.
New York City: Saunders, Mendoza, Jacobsen, Brovsky, Grabavoy, Mullins, Wingert, Ballouchy, Velasquez, Facey, David Villa. Subs all used: Fitzgerald, Watson-Siriboe, Williams, Shlelton, Dunn, Nemec, Alvarez, Martinez, Brandt, Poku, Taylor, Rawls.
St Mirren: Kello, Naismith, McAusland, Baird, Kelly, Dayton, Mallan, Goodwin, McGinn, Arquin, Thompson. Subs all used: Ridgers, McLear, Wylde, Reilly, Cuddihy, Yaqub, Sonupe, Sadlier, Gow, Lamont.