It’s always nice to change the pace every once in a while.
New York City FC was able to squeak out a victory over the first-place Columbus Crew SC 1-0 at Red Bull Arena last night. It was a much-needed victory for Ronny Delia and his squad. It wasn’t pretty by any means. But whenever you’re in a slump, beggars can’t be choosers. Just like any other game though, there are always positives and negatives that come out of it.
The first half didn’t really produce any standout moments, which fit into New York City’s persona this season. It was the typical possession style with no finish that has been the story this season so far. But you can tell City’s players were desperate and determined in this game from the first whistle. At one point in the first half, City had 10 fouls and the Crew had 0. Some call it an indication of poor refereeing, but I call it a display of aggression we haven’t seen from this NYCFC team all season.
Again though, lack of creativity and conviction in the final third plagued the team in the first half. Players would pick up the ball in the final third and have no real idea where to play it. It lead to cheap giveaways in possession. They also gave away the ball cheaply in transition on multiple occasions, which lead to multiple counter-attacking chances the Crew could’ve — but ultimately didn’t — capitalized on.
When it came half-time, the game felt the same as all the other games this season. Matt Doyle of MLSSoccer.Com tweeted this out.
NYCFC didn't put a single shot on goal in the first half against a Columbus team with six back-ups on the field.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) August 24, 2020
They're 45 minutes from mashing the panic button, I think.
I read this and felt it on a spiritual level. You’re at “home” to a Columbus team playing six backups and couldn’t generate a single shot on goal all half.
But the second half was different. It wasn’t a large incremental improvement, but the team played better. There was a connection between the front line and the midfield, something so basic that this team had been failing to do and had left Héber and Taty Castellanos isolated up top for large portions of past games where they would have to be a creator and finisher. There was also more conviction in the final third. Players weren’t afraid to pick the ball up and run at the defense, which is something I’ll talk about in a bit.
Still, City couldn’t score, until the Aboubacar Keita mistake. Just like City all season, it was a lapse in defensive judgment on the Crew’s part that lead to the goal. Credit to Héber’s awareness and Alexander Ring’s ability to finish it, but it was all generated by a mistake. Without that mistake, the game could’ve finished 0-0. I also thought, barring the mistake, Keita had a good game for the Crew.
It was shaky at times and after a couple of close offside calls against the Crew, City was able to hold on for the victory. A game, that yet again, had some positives and some negatives.
Player-wise, I thought Alexandru Mitriță had his best game in a while. He needs to be more direct on the ball. Too many times during his tenure at the club, he’ll pick the ball up then peel back looking for a pass. This game, he took the ball and ran at the defense, causing issues for the Crew’s right side. He even had a shot that beat Tarbell but rang off the crossbar. You see the potential of a DP level player when he does what he did last night. His issue has always been his ability to do it at a consistent level. He can’t just decide to play like he did last night every five games. He needs to put his head down and focus.
In the midfield, despite the goal, I still don’t like Ring playing as advanced as Delia has him. Playing him in an advanced position isn’t the best use of his talents. I’m also not a coach and he did score, so I won’t voice my displeasure any more than that.
Keaton Parks isn’t the answer as Maxi Moralez’s back up. Parks is good with the ball at his feet and good at retaining possession, but he lacks the playmaking awareness a number 10 needs. Playing him advanced like that is an indication of poor roster construction and isn’t Parks or honestly Delia’s fault. They needed a backup for Moralez, we all said it in the preseason, and they never got one.
Jesus Medina is a player I always have to mention. Delia is really trying to make him the centerpiece of this team it seems like. Delia has gotten it right with moving him inside rather than playing him out on the wing. He’s not amazing in the middle, but he’s better than he is on the wing. But just like years past, he makes poor mistakes and will drift out of the game for large portions. I’m okay with the Medina experiment and I hope he can adapt better into the center midfielder position over time, considered he is still a relatively young and raw player (and is on a Designated Player contract).
Defensively the team was again solid, but they continue to turn off at inconvenient times. There was a play late in the game where Sean Johnson and Maxime Chanot didn’t know who was going for the ball and Johnson attempted a clearance that bounced right off of Chanot’s chest. It’s basic communication that could solve issues like that and when you have a backline that’s been together as long as this one, they should have it figured out. I also want to shout out James Sands. I’ve run out of good things to say about this kid, I just don’t want him to leave.
Two more things before I wrap up this essay.
City had a projected goal total below one again last night. This team really misses Maxi’s playmaking ability and again, the lack of a true backup will bite them in the ass time and time again whenever the diminutive Argentinian is unavailable. NYCFC also played their third different formation in three games. Delia’s still trying to tweak this team and hopefully, he’s found a winning formula going back to basics with the 4-3-3.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I got, like, three positive comments on my last game recap and it honestly made my week. City is back in Harrison on Saturday to face the Chicago Fire. This game has me nowhere close to convinced, but I’m nonetheless intrigued. Here’s to hopefully more wins as NYCFC look to get back into the playoff hunt.
COME ON YOU BOYS IN BLUE!