Analysis

New York City 3, D.C. United 2: Three things as NYCFC erupts late in the Bronx

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Three goals in after the 78th minute allowed NYCFC to reclaim first in the Eastern Conference. Scott French on tonight's game at Yankee Stadium.

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Frank Lampard scored two late goals, including a stoppage-time winner, as New York City FC turned a thorny Yankee Stadium battle with D.C. United in the final half-hour, rallying for a 3-2 triumph and vaulting back into the top spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.

Lampard netted his 10th and 11th goals of the season -- all scored in just 13 games -- and David Villa netted his 17th of the year, pushing ahead of Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco and New York Red Bulls' Bradley Wright-Phillips in the Golden Boot chase. NYC (12-8-8, 44 points) overcame an hour of D.C. dominance to climb a point ahead of Toronto FC (12-8-7, 43), which has the weekend off.

D.C. (7-9-11, 32) missed an opportunity to build a cushion in the race for the East's final playoff berth. United, which came in with a six-game unbeaten streak, is sixth in the conference, five points behind fifth-place Montreal (9-7-10, 37) and just a point ahead of Orlando City SC (6-7-3, 31). The Impact and Lions are idle this weekend.

D.C.'s is the fifth lengthy unbeaten streak NYC has halted this season, following those of Colorado (15 games), Philadelphia (8), Montreal (6) and the LA Galaxy (9).

Three key storylines from NYCFC's victory:

What a wild finish

D.C. United was in charge until the 79th minute, when Luke Mishu's horrid back pass gifted Villa a simple one-on-one finish and started an electric final 16 minutes in which the home side snagged a late lead, gave it away on a stoppage-time corner kick, then snared all three points thanks to Lampard and late substitute Khiry Shelton.

Shelton, who came on in the 79th, made an immediate impact, pressuring Mishu at midfield on D.C.'s left flank and prodding the second-year defender to play a ball far too deep for his backline. Villa, who would have been offside had it come from a teammate, raced to the ball, took it toward the box, and easily beat goalkeeper Bill Hamid.

NYCFC had owned possession but had done so without intensity to that point, unable to unlock D.C.'s defense while conceding far too much space in midfield and in its defensive third. That changed entirely with the goal. Suddenly New York was pushing forward, finding gaps, putting D.C. on its heels. Villa would have netted a second in the 76th after R.J. Allen volleyed Pirlo's chip into the goalmouth if not for Jalen Robinson's last-moment lunge to redirect the shot.

Lampard, who was honored before the game for scoring his 300th career goal last month, tallied three minutes later. It, too, came from a giveaway. Maxine Chanot intercepted a Marcelo Sarvas pass to nowhere, NYCFC played a couple passes up the right flank, where Shelton somehow beat Nick DeLeon to the ball before knocking it toward the penalty spot. Villa couldn't corral it, but Lampard finished the remains.

D.C. pulled even in the 91st, with Lamar Neagle going over Federico Bravo to head home a Julian Buescher corner kick, but Shelton found Lampard in the box two minutes later. The Englishman juked Robinson to the ground and beat Hamid to the far post.

Acosta guides United

Add Luciano Acosta's name to the list of MLS' premier playmakers. His creativity, partnership with deputy Patrick Nyarko and their connections with newcomers Lloyd Sam and Patrick Mullins has fueled the sudden emergence of D.C.'s attack, which now has 15 goals in the six games the quartet has started together.

The Argentine midfielder, on loan from Boca Juniors, was marvelous before exiting a couple of minutes before Villa's goal, continually finding the ball in space. Mullins, the pickup from NYCFC who scored a hat trick in D.C.'s 6-2 romp last weekend over Chicago, should have done more with an open header from Acosta's cross at the start, and he was offside for one of Acosta's three finest passes of the night, a through ball that slipped past three defenders for what would have been an open shot.

D.C.’s first goal, by Lloyd Sam in the 36th minute, was Acosta's doing. He picked off an errant Jefferson Mena pass at midfield, brought it forward, then slipped a ball past three defenders to send Nyarko into space in the middle. Nyarko picked out Sam on the right, and the former Red Bulls attacker finished with precision.

Shifting gears

NYCFC had most of the ball and created three terrific first-half opportunities, but let's be clear: The home side was outclassed in the first 45 minutes. It forced Patrick Vieira to alter his lineup and formation at the break, not that that changed things substantially. NYCFC continued to create some wonderful chances but was second-best nearly every step, at least until Mishu's woeful pass.

There were several contributing factors. Andoni Iraola was overrun in midfield, and Mena had some problems at right back, an unfamiliar position. D.C. left little space for NYC to exploit with all its possession, and Villa, well-covered by, especially, Bobby Boswell, was stranded much of the night. Allen was sharp in the opening minutes on the left flank, twice delivering crosses to the right post that might have meant something had Jack Harrison been where he should have been, but Franklin did a better job of keeping him quiet after 10 minutes had passed. Robinson repeatedly made big plays, the biggest the deflection on Villa's 76th-minute try and a shoulder challenge to deny Steven Mendoza access to a curling Pirlo ball into D.C.'s box.

Vieira shifted from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 in the second half, but the impact, at least initially, was subtle. D.C. had less space to work in, and Acosta wasn't as effective as he'd been before halftime. And Harrison, subpar on the right side in the first half, found a rhythm and began causing havoc on the left.

The difference all night was energy and passion. D.C. had it until Villa scored, and NYCFC carried it the rest of the way.

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Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.