Believe it or not, there was a time when Jesus Medina was on top of the world with New York City FC. The young Paraguayan was initially brought to the Big Apple prior to the 2018 season as the club’s first-ever Young Designated Player, and is acquisition was met with some real hype as this was a huge indicator that NYCFC had their sights firmly set on the future.
And initially, things were panning out quite nicely. Medina scored in his debut appearance, the team were winning games with him on either flank, and things were just — good. And they stayed that way for nearly half a season.
Then, in June, manager Patrick Vieira left for OGC Nice as NYCFC were making a push for league’s best. Then Domé Torrent came in, we all loved him at first, then we hated him, then we loved him again — you know the story, so I’ll spare you the history lesson.
But as NYCFC have fallen and risen again, one startling thing was happening in the background — Jesus Medina had seemingly been left behind as his performances began to progressively decline.
Despite having a big-money DP contract, Medina’s poor acclimation to City’s new style under a new manager left him on the bench.
Prior to this past Saturday’s game against the New England Revolution, Medina had mostly been an afterthought. Alexandru Mitrita — NYCFC’s newest DP — had begun to establish himself as one of the league’s most explosive players, Gary Mackay-Steven was picked up in the summer, Taty Castellanos had been the hottest player on City’s roster not named Héber, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi was returning from injury.
But after City got smacked in the mouth early and were forced to battle back in an attempt to definitely grab first place in the Eastern Conference, Domé seemed willing to give Medina a shot to prove his worth and help the team mount a comeback. And in the 60th minute, the Catalan manager made a tactical change that saw the Young DP come off the bench in exchange for center back Sebastien Ibeagha.
Just minutes into his stint, Alexander Ring delivered a beautiful ball that found Medina at the back post. In what seemed to be a play in which a goal was imminent, Medina slid into the ball, only for it to be shot directly into a diving Matt Turner. The crowd collectively groaned, and there was a feeling that this performance from Medina would be the same disappointing outing from a player that we had expected so much from.
But on this particular day, Jesus had had enough. He would prove why everyone (myself included) is wrong about him.
About five minutes later, NYCFC launched a massive counter-attack spearheaded by Anton Tinnerholm. After carrying the ball in the attacking third and creating enough separation, the Swedish right back centered it into the box where Medina met the ball with a chip shot over Turner that seemed to deny the rules of physics, tying the game at 1-1.
And that wouldn’t be the end of it, either.
In the dying stages of second half stoppage time, Alexandru Mitrita would be brought down in the box. After consulting with the VAR, referee Silviu Petrescu deemed the challenge a foul in the box and awarded NYCFC a penalty kick and an attempt to effectively win the game.
In a stark departure from past PK’s, Maxi Moralez encouraged Medina to step up and take the spot kick himself. Though we have all expressed frustration with Maxi’s inconsistency from the spot in the past, leaving the duty to the relatively inexperienced Medina seemed like a pretty wild proposition.
Nonetheless, the 22-year-old winger stood over the ball with confidence and when the time came to take shot, he buried the spot kick and sent New York City supporters into a frenzy that I can still hear ringing in my ears.
After the game was officially in the books, Medina appeared happy to be greeted by a flock of reporters at his locker post-game. “Oh wow,” the youthful winger quietly proclaimed, as if he had never been bombarded with the media before.
Following his miraculous performance, the name of Jesus Medina is once again firmly at the forefront of NYCFC supporters’ minds.
With Héber to be out for a few weeks with an injury, Tajouri-Shradi still needing to be match fit, and Maxi Moralez being suspended due to yellow card accumulation for Wednesday’s game against Toronto FC, it’s likely we’ll see Medina being featured again.
But should it continue after that as City heads into the MLS Cup Playoffs?
As good as NYCFC has been over the past few months, it’s hard for me not to be frustrated that only two of the Blues’ three Designated Players are usually on the field. Despite his struggles in the past, there is little doubt in my mind that Medina has the talent to start more often than he is now. The only obstacle is his consistently.
But we’ve seen in the past what one good game can do for a player’s confidence. Let’s not forget that prior to his breakout game against Minnesota United in April, Taty Castellanos has since emerged as one of NYCFC’s top talents as they’ve continued their surge to the top of the Eastern Conference. After one impressive game in which he scored a goal and logged two assists, Castellanos has ran with the momentum full steam ahead and has not looked back.
And there’s no reason to believe that Medina can’t do the same.
He’ll likely have his chance on Wednesday. And if he can log another performance that at least comes close to matching what we saw from him against New England, don’t be surprised if Domé Torrent finds it worth it to give the Young DP more minutes in the near future.