NYCFC aims to gain ground in East, hosts Fire

After a squandered opportunity, New York City FC has a second chance at gaining on the Eastern Conference’s top two teams.

The Blues, who gave up a 90th-minute goal in a 2-2 draw with first-place Toronto FC on Wednesday, host the second-place Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium in New York.

The Fire (11-3-5) trail Toronto FC (11-3-6), which hosts Colorado on Saturday, by one point in the standings. NYCFC (10-6-4) is five points behind Toronto FC.

“I feel that sometimes you have to accept that the other team is playing better, and I think Toronto played better,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said in his postgame press conference. “I think in the second half when they scored the goal, we were struggling. Physically, it was quite difficult for us.”

New York City was facing a Toronto team playing without U.S. international stars Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore — and coach Greg Vanney, who was booted early in the second half for arguing a call. Still, the team didn’t play well enough to win in Vieira’s view.

“Managing to win 2-1 with the way we were playing tonight, I was going to be satisfied,” Vieira said. “Sometimes you need to accept that the other team is playing better.

“You have to give (Toronto) more credit. If I was in their shoes, I’d be really disappointed to go back to Toronto with only a point.”

Meanwhile, Chicago hasn’t lost since late April and has had five- and three-game win streaks during that time.

Saturday’s game will feature the two leading goal scorers in MLS.

Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic has 16 goals this season, his first in the league. He will line up across from the league’s reigning MVP, David Villa, who has 13 goals — including one on Wednesday night, for the Blues.

“He helped me a lot to grow, because as a striker, you want to fight with the best,” Nikolic said of Villa, according to the team’s website. “And he’s for sure one of the best in the league. He pushes me more, because every week he scores a goal and makes good games for his team. It’s motivation for me and other strikers to be better and better. We cannot be in our comfort zone.”

Fire defender Joao Meira said Villa is his toughest matchup in the league.

“For me, maybe it’s the worst to play against (Villa),” Meira said. “He’s still very smart. He fights for every ball, and if he has a chance or off-chance, he scores a goal. We need to be focused 100 percent, or more than 100 percent.”

Chicago will be without Dax McCarthy, who is on international duty with the U.S. team.

The Blues, who lost Panamanian defender Miguel Camargo for the season with a hip injury sustained during international play, will be missing winger Rodney Wallace on Saturday.

Next up for NYCFC is a July 30 rematch with Toronto. Chicago plays at Sporting Kansas City the previous day.