The defense needs to be better if NYCFC are to avoid another early playoff exit
To be fair, New York City FC’s defensive performance was definite one of the bright spots throughout the 2020 season. And if you’re looking at the back four’s accomplishments as a whole, it’ll be hard to find anything glaringly wrong with it.
But against the Chicago Fire, City’s typically airtight defensive line was a leaky mess and conceded the lead twice in the first — once with a 1-0 lead, and again after they had built up a 3-1 lead.
If this were a game in August or even September, it could easily be excused as an anomaly (which it is in all fairness) and you’d happily take the three points while pleading with the club to not needlessly drive up your blood pressure. But considering how NYCFC exited the playoffs last year against Toronto FC, these are things that the team must address now.
This was against a lowly Chicago side that didn’t make the playoffs despite ten of 14 clubs in the Eastern Conference being given a berth. If NYCFC have these kinds of lapses against Orlando City, it’ll be a repeat of last year at Citi Field.
Ugly wins aren’t a bad thing
Now... take what I just said and forget I ever said it. Because despite City’s defense last night being nothing to write home about, the big 4-3 win over the Fire still had a lot to say about the team’s character. No matter how good your team is and how well they perform on most days, things will inevitably go wrong from time to time. And it’s when things go wrong that you discover the most about yourself.
There were several times where NYCFC looked doomed to fail in the Windy City. But each time they were dealt a shitty set of circumstances — whether it be self-inflicted or not — they answered back and came out on top.
Good teams deal with adversity when things don’t go according to plan. And while they won’t get much in the way of style points for Sunday’s performance, they ended up with three points.
NYCFC’s attack just keeps getting better
If you told me back in August that this team would’ve been able to become as offensively potent as they have this fall, I probably would’ve arrogantly scoffed before coming up with several “reasons” as to why you’re wrong.
But despite the season-ending injury to Héber and Alexandru Mitrita’s departure, NYCFC have found hot hands with the front three of Gary Mackay-Steven, Jesus Medina, and Taty Castellanos.
Think about what I just said for a second. GMS, Medina, and Taty have turned into a three-headed beast that are eating defenses alive! Who would’ve called that one?
In Héber’s absence, Taty has had to find his footing in the tail half of the season. But despite not scoring goals until just recently, the Argentinian’s work rate and ability to create space for those around him has payed dividends for all of those around him.
Taty’s biggest beneficiary is Jesus Medina, who has had a breakout season under new manager Ronny Deila. The DP winger still has a lot to prove if we are to not consider his three seasons as a DP to be worth it. But the Paraguayan has made a splash this season and has been more clinical in front of net and has been great with his distribution of the ball as well as his ability to counter-press.
And then you have Gary Mackay-Steven. The Scotsman has been getting progressively better and better since the summer. And having finally found the back of the net in his last two games, GMS is making a good case for why he should start over fan favorite Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the playoffs.
The makeshift front three put the league on notice with a big 5-2 win over the rival New York Red Bulls last week. And in a game against Chicago where the defense conceded three goals, they were able to manufacture four in return to ensure victory in the 2020 regular season finale.
I have reservations about such a hot attacking corps being forced to sit for a week and a half in preparation for the playoffs. After all, momentum is sometimes more important than talent alone. But if Deila’s Boys are as game as they say they are, then expect a fire in Florida.