It’s official: New York City is off to its worst start in three years. What’s more concerning is that there’s no sign the team will snap out of that slide.
The Pigeons traveled north of the border to Toronto’s BMO Field for an old-school game of Friday Night futbol. Having started the season with three straight draws, a fourth wouldn’t have been the worst result, and it looked like manager Dome Torrent had that notion in mind, given his starting lineup.
That’s not how things ended up. Toronto had two early goals — one in the ninth minute, another in the 25th minute — called off for offside, before finally scoring on a lovely give-and-go kickstarted by new star signing Alejandro Pozuelo in the 29th minute. Both the Reds and the Pigeons were fairly evenly matched, but Toronto had more and better chances in the first half. They clearly were the team with momentum going into halftime.
New York City came out fired up to start the second half, and had a gilt-edged chance right off the bat, but Alexander Mitriță was unable to capitalize. Later in the second half, Jesus Medina rang a shot off the post — but that’s as close as the Pigeons got.
In the 58th minute, the wheels came off in catastrophic fashion. Defender Alex Callens, caught flat-footed yet again in the box, grabbed hold of Toronto’s Jozy Altidore’s jersey as the striker tried to get open. After consulting the VAR, referee Chris Penso correctly awarded a penalty.
Pozuelo stepped up to take it, and scored on an absolutely cheeky panenka, giving Toronto a 2-0 lead. From that point on, it just felt like New York City were going through the motions. In the 78th minute, Pozuelo got his brace, notching an outrageously splendid goal to make the score 3-0.
That’s just an outstanding goal; goalkeeper Sean Johnson did a masterful job to keep the score to what it was, but he could only do so much. Five minutes later, Toronto’s Jay Chapman added a fourth goal to close out the scoring.
So what went wrong?
The lineup should’ve been the first sign of that. That’s a 4-3-3 with not one, not two, but three defensive midfielders. Yes, you read that right — Maxi Moralez, the creative linchpin of this team, was entirely absent tonight. One hopes that it was because of injury, because if it was a tactical decision, it was a manifestly poor one.
Theoretically, that means you’d have a lineup that’s stout defensively.
The reality, after four games, is that this New York City team is very fragile defensively. Ben Sweat seems to have regressed a bit, Alex Callens and Maxime Chanot seem to get caught off guard a lot, and while Anton Tinnerholm is still solid, he’s just one guy.
Meanwhile, Alex Ring is trying to play more offensively, which means that James Sands gets left on an island, and while he’s been astonishingly good for how little experience he’s got, he’s still an 18-year-old thrown into the deep end. And Ebenezer Ofori is serviceable, but he’s no Yangel Herrera.
On top of that, when you start three defensive mids, who’s creating the offensive sequences? You’re essentially asking the attacking trident to drop deep to get the ball, which means they have to create the chances they’re expected to finish.
The result is a team lacking in offensive creativity from top to bottom. This may seem obvious, but stay with me here: when you lack the ability to create offensive chances, it becomes harder to win games when you go behind.
More than that: it’s a team that’s boring to watch. New York City have no spark. Reader: if it feels like every player on the field is trying to create something out of nothing, your feelings are not leading you astray. That’s precisely what’s happening. Just like the second half of last season, it feels like whatever tactical plan gets created by the coaching staff is tossed aside about 30 minutes into the game by the players on the field.
Look, let’s just say it: this team is too talented to play like this. This team is too talented to be 8-7-8 in 23 games. New York City is off to an 0-3-1 start; the 2015 team got off to a 1-5-7 start and literally signed a player off the street; the 2016 version started 1-4-3 with a worse roster.
This roster is largely the same as the one which went seven games unbeaten to open the season a year ago. They started the season 5-0-2! They sauntered into Kansas City and put one of the most ferociously scrappy teams in the league on lockdown to kick off the season, and held the eventual MLS champs to a 2-2 draw in their home stadium.
You know what? I’m just going to yell it: THIS TEAM IS TOO DAMN TALENTED TO BE WINLESS IN FOUR GAMES TO START THE SEASON.
That’s not something that’s fixed by signing a striker, or tweaking a thing here or there, and anyone that says otherwise is actively denying reality. Adding Héber won’t fix the lack of creativity in this team. It won’t fix the defensive lapses. It won’t fix the fact that the team’s clearly checked out on the coach.
It’s time for Doménec Torrent to go. Fire him. Fire him now. You can’t necessarily win the title in April, but you can certainly lose it. You can certainly dig yourself into a deep enough hole that making the playoffs — even with a seventh spot on offer now — becomes a challenge, and eventually an impossibility. We’ve seen it happen over and over again, whether it’s the Portland Timbers, or the LA Galaxy, or Toronto FC, or next week’s opponent, the Montreal Impact.
We’ve seen enough from Torrent to know that he’s simply not fit for purpose as a manager. The fact that he had no top-flight experience when he took over last summer wasn’t disqualifying, in and of itself. Some of the best managers haven’t. And even after the disappointing end to last season, you could argue that Torrent deserved an offseason to get fully in place.
But he’s now had 23 games and an offseason. That’s two-thirds of a season. There’s just no sign that the team’s improving. There really isn’t. I think people are arguing against all the evidence on the field to insist otherwise. And arguing that a little-known Brazilian striker from a third-tier European league is going to be the difference-maker here is like banking on winning the lottery in order to pay your rent.
The prudent thing isn’t sticking to a decision, and hoping against all evidence that it works out; that’s the essence of the sunk-cost fallacy. The responsible thing, the creditable thing would be to admit that hiring Domenec Torrent was the wrong decision, fire him, and replace him.
Otherwise, you just compound the mistake.