Alexandru Mitrita

CONCACAF Champions League
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NYCFC grabs five away goals in CONCACAF Champions League debut

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New York City FC took a 5-3 advantage over San Carlos in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Thursday at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in Costa Rica.

Heber converted a second-half penalty to complete a hat trick for Ronny Deila’s side — that’s gonna take some getting used to — with Alexander Callens and Alexandru Mitrita scoring NYCFC’s fourth and fifth goals.

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Jorman Aguilar, Marcos Mena,and Omar Browne scored for the Costa Rican hosts with two assists arriving via Randy Chirino.

San Carlos visits Red Bull Arena for the second leg on Wednesday.

The hosts pulled within a goal with 11 minutes to play, but Mitrita buried a rebound of a saved Maxi Moralez penalty kick.

The 28-year-old Heber scored 15 goals and three assists in just 22 appearances last season after arriving from HNK Rijeka in Croatia’s top tier.

Three things we learned from NYCFC-Toronto FC

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The game in 200 words (or less): The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is gone from the MLS Cup Playoffs, and has no one to blame but itself.

The hosts took too long to get going at their temporary home of Citi Field — home of baseball’s New York Mets — and needed a strong first half from goalkeeper Sean Johnson to stay in the game before bowing out via two school child errors. The play overall was as haphazard as the baseball screen obstructed the TV cameras for most of the match, so it felt oddly fitting that Toronto’s appearances on the scoreboard came via elementary errors.

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At the other end, well-traveled French-American backstop Quentin Westberg took over with an outstanding save on Maxi Moralez and another on Ronald Matarrita (an offside chance, alas). Alexandru Mitrita blew a 1v1 chance around the hour mark, but NYC found its breakthrough via Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. The Libyan forward lashed a back post offering from MLS assist leader Moralez home with just over 20 minutes to play. But Matarrita made an absolutely comical slide tackle on Richie Laryea in the box, and Pozuelo stepped to the line and put TFC in another conference final.


Three things we learned

1. Pozuelo punishes rusty hosts: NYCFC got a little too cute in dealing with a wild and unexpected lash into the box from Auro Jr., the message hailed by a series of popped-up headers not heard by City goalkeeper Sean Johnson (who to that point had been spectacular).

Maxime Chanot tried a header back to his keeper. It wasn’t a good one and Johnson declined to rush out for it. The one player City wouldn’t have wanted to run onto the mistake was former Swansea City man Pozuelo, who scored his 13th goal to go with eight assists in his first campaign with the Reds. He’d add his 14th when NYCFC made another terrible error, Laryea chopped down by Matarrita.

2. Savvy Toronto meets NYCFC plan head-on, but City regroups: Calmer on the ball and quick to reload, TFC was not bothered by the narrow pitch at Citi Field. The Reds were happy to play the ball all the way back to Quentin Westberg, but also more adept and desperate in 50-50 battles at the heart of the action. The second half, however, saw less crispness and tenacity from the Reds as NYCFC launched forward in desperation and NYC might’ve pulled out the win without those two costly errors.

Credit Toronto manager Greg Vanney, who introduced the penalty-winning Laryea late as a massive change from from right back Justin Morrow. Without Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez, however, the Reds got the job done.

3. Johnson the early star, Westberg late: NYCFC veteran goalkeeper Sean Johnson was much busier than his counter part in the first 30 minutes, and only stumbled once when he briefly bobbled Alejandro Pozuelo’s unfairly-won free kick. His finest moment came in the 37th, when Tsubasa Endoh backheeled to set up Jonathan Osorio for a vicious shot that Johnson’s pushed over the bar. Whereas the star of the first half was all about Johnson, TFC backstop Westberg was oh-so-necessary. The former Troyes and Auxerre goalkeepr made a big stop just after City equalized, and commanded the area as TFC took the win to the house.

Man of the Match: Chris Mavinga — Toronto’s Congolese center back was a force in the air and on the ground, putting an end to several big NYCFC chances with positioning and power.


NYCFC rides Mitrita 1st half hat trick to cusp of East’s No. 1 seed

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Alexandru Mitrita has heated up in a big way at the right time.

New York City’s Romanian winger scored three goals in the first 34 minutes of play of a massive match against Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

NYC rode those goals to a 4-1 win, with a Pity Martinez penalty the only concession and a Heber marker in the 87th minute the finishing touch.

[ ROUNDUP: Insane League Cup match day yields ‘cupsets’ ]

That gives him six goals and two assists in his last six matches. Pretty good stuff as NYCFC is on the verge of clinching the No. 1 spot in the East, which could happen as soon as Philadelphia’s trip to San Jose for a 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

Maxi Moralez assisted Mitrita’s second goal, and became just the third player in MLS history to register 20 assists in a season (Carlos Valderrama and Sacha Kljestan).

Atlanta can no longer catch NYC, and the Philadelphia Union are nine points back with three matches to play. City has two, has 12 goals better differential, and travels to Chester to face the Union on Decision Day.

The Heber goal was stupid, as he tackled Leandro Gonzalez Pirez before putting Brad Guzan on a Slip ‘N Slide.

Toronto FC boosts playoff chances with draw at leaders NYCFC

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Despite missing a second-half penalty that would have theoretically given them all three points, Toronto FC pulled out a valuable road draw at NYCFC as the score finished level 1-1.

The draw was a fair result, as both sides saw some luck. NYCFC’s goal came just six minutes into the game as Alexandru Mitrita scored a fabulous free-kick from a tough angle straightaway outside the box. Toronto scored just before halftime as Alejandro Pozuelo hit from the penalty spot.

[ MORE: Mitrita scores spectacular free-kick ]

The second half was eventful despite no goals being scored. Pozuelo failed to bag his brace as he again stepped up to the spot, but Sean Johnson was on hand to produce a stunning save as he dove to his left, reaching up and back with his hand to tip the ball away.

Toronto was lucky not to concede at the death as Chris Mavinga whacked Valentin Castellanos right in the face with an outstretched arm while battling for a loose ball in the box, bloodying the NYCFC attacker’s nose. Incredulously, Castellanos was called for a foul just seconds before as he allegedly dragged back Omar Gonzalez despite hardly any contact. Mavinga was not penalized for the obvious contact, and VAR somehow did not flag the incident.

The point pushed Toronto FC up to 42 on the season, moving them to fourth in the Eastern Conference and five points above the playoff cut line with four matches remaining, a valuable distance with the other three playoff teams all within three points. NYCFC, meanwhile, will be disappointed in the dropped points but also they move three points clear of second-placed Philadelphia and six clear of Atlanta United.

NYCFC winger Mitrita scores fabulous free-kick from straightaway

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While it may not be quite at the level of a Puskas Award, Alexandru Mitrita scored a fabulous free-kick against Toronto FC tonight that may actually be a lot harder than it looks at first glance.

In just the sixth minute, Omar Gonzalez fouled Valentin Castellanos just outside the top of the box, giving NYCFC an early free-kick opportunity. The ball was just inches outside the box and the angle was almost dead center, meaning the opening for a goal from the set-piece was extremely small. A hit too slow and loopy would be easy for the goalkeeper to reach, while too hard would likely see the ball blasted into the wall, which at that angle and distance is covering almost the entire window of opportunity.

Yet somehow, the 24-year-old Romanian international found the right formula, ripping an effort just over the wall’s left edge and past a diving Quentin Westberg into the back of the net.

Free-kick goals from this distance and angle are almost always stunning efforts given the degree of difficulty the positioning presents. Toronto fans may also look at Chris Mavinga, the man on the left edge of the wall who barely even efforts to stop the shot as it whizzes past him, even separating from the wall to give Mitrita the opening. Westberg may also earn some blame for his positioning, sticking himself too far behind the wall and leaving far too much space on the left side of the net, at which Mitrita takes aim.

The goal is the Romanian’s eighth of the season in 25 matches, having joined this past offseason from Romanian club CS Universitatea Craiova. It’s also his second goal in three games after scoring and assisting one each against Vancouver on September 1. Take a bow.