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3 Steps Forward, 4 Steps Back: How NYCFC Crashed Out of the MLS is Back Tournament

What’s next for NYCFC?

SOCCER: AUG 01 MLS is Back Quarterfinal - New York City FC v Portland Timbers Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

And we’re right back to where we started.

I just spent four hours in the car thinking about last night’s game between New York City FC and the Portland Timbers. In those four hours, I thought a lot of things. In the end, I tried to come up with one adjective to sum up my feelings and I struggled to come up with one.

What we saw last night was a reversion back to the City we saw every game before the Toronto game. It was a whole lot of possession which only resulted in boring, static, and un-imaginative play from NYC. On top of that, defensive lapses — which have become common as of late — lead to City’s demise.

I listened to Extratime radio this past week and Matt Doyle of was one of the few people to correctly predict City overcoming Toronto in the Round of 16 matchup last week. He said City had been unlucky up to that point. After I reminisce on the tournament, I could see where he was coming from. In both games against the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City, respectively, Andre Blake and Pedro Gallase were big reasons City lost in both of those games. Did City deserve to win? No. Did they deserve to lose? Not necessarily.

The thing about last night’s game that grinded my gears was that City did in fact deserve to lose. It was an astounding game from the Timbers point of view. Their attack was disconnected during long stretches of the first half especially, and City’s attackers found pockets of space in between the lines on multiple occasions. Still, they deserved to win this game.

As I said before, City looked clueless in attack. There was one moment when City were down 3-1 and I was screaming profanity at the TV while Héber was just chilling at the top of the box not moving. Dome’s system allowed for fluent, interchangeable attacking play in past seasons which played into the pocket of all of NYCFC’s dynamic attackers. Delia’s system leans more towards a more rigid system. Is rigid necessarily a bad thing? No. But it is when you have all of that attacking talent box up without the freedom to do what they do best.

Defensively, I look at the system and see not many issues. Most defensive breakdowns come from personal errors and lapses then an issue with the system itself. James Sands and Alexander Ring were simply not good enough last night in front of the defense. Maxime Chanot has looked out of form ever since his red card against the Columbus Crew two minutes into the regular season. Players need to do their roles in order to succeed and key players for City simply failed to do so last night.

This criticism shouldn’t hide the fact that the Timbers are a good team. Giovanni Savarese is a good coach and their talent showed up last night. They looked better than they did last season, relying more on good build up plays rather than the smash-and-grab, low block defensive style. Portland vs. the Philadelphia Union will be a good matchup in the semi-finals.

Now, what does this mean for City? As the tournament went on, I began to buy more into the importance of it. With that being said, it’s still important to realize how much weight this tournament actually carries. Even if City won the whole damn thing, I would still be reserved about its significance. Despite how pissed off we all may be right now, no one deserves to be losing their job due to City’s performance in this tournament.

I do think last night was a microcosm of a macrocosm. NYCFC’s core can not win big games. We’ve seen it time and time again in derby games, the U.S Open Cup, and the MLS Cup Playoffs. For some reason, City constantly hit a mental block and fail to get the job done despite showing all the signs of a successful team. I don’t think it necessarily means thy need to ‘rebuild’. But some retooling is definitely in order.

The best example I can come up with is the NHL’s New York Rangers the last couple years. They were the best regular season team, made it to three Eastern Conference Finals, and one Stanley Cup final in the span of 5 years. But, despite how great the core was, they couldn’t get it done. So before everything went all the way down the drain, they accepted their losses and turned flipped assets into valuable future pieces. Now, they are back in the playoffs only two seasons after retooling.

New York City’s timeline would be different, but the principle remains the same. Even though you may have the makings of what most people would consider a successful team, you can cut your losses early and look towards a more successful future. Pieces like Ring, Tinnerholm, Mattarita, Chanot, Callens, Medina, etc. need to be looked at and the club needs to ask the tough question if these players can win this club silverware.

If the club is buying into Ronny Delia long term, let him make the decisions. If not (which would be a bigger issue), find players that can elevate the core of the team to success. Make the harder decisions now before it’s too late and those decisions get a lot harder. It’s a hard route to take, but it’s one that can build championship caliber teams.

With all that being said, City is going home. It was fun (no it wasn’t) while it lasted. But all good (bad) things have to come to an end. Even though it was rough, it was fun to see soccer again during these dark times in our world. Don’t take what you got for granted because you won’t know how much you’ll miss it til’ it’s gone.

Thanks for following along this tournament and here’s to whatever the future has in store.