70 percent possession, nine corners, 19 shots on target, the end result: 0 - 0.
New York City FC are now on a run of four matches unbeaten under Ronny Deila but excuse me if this draw feels like a loss.
D.C. United refused to threaten in their own backyard. This was not so much a defensive test for City as much as an opportunity to show how clinical and deadly they can be in front of goal. Maxi Moralez and Alexander Ring impressed in the first half with their creativity; they served up chances for Jesús Medina, Héber and Keaton Parks but the finishing was woeful and concerning.
Parks came the closest in the first half when he missed a sitter, skewing the shot just wide of an open goal. Héber had a decent chance in the second half when he had a header cleared off the line by former NYCFC player, Frédéric Brillant.
Yet another goalless game for Héber means he won’t be able to build on his positive performance midweek against the New England Revolution. Forget the goals, his contributions in every other aspect of the game were abysmal. With his back to goal, he attempted multiple layoffs for teammates. All of those attempts were either too soft or too predictable and resulted in the team losing possession.
When Héber finally made way for Valentín Castellanos, the team’s attacking options suddenly opened up. First time viewers are excused for believing Castellanos is a true forward and a target man. The young Argentine is actually an attacking midfielder who has stepped up as the club’s backup number nine in the absence of a traditional striker on the bench. While goals haven’t been coming for Castellanos, his mentality and work rate is contagious. Whether he’s facing goal or playing with his back to goal, you can expect him to make some sort of positive impact on the pitch.
Competition between teammates is a sign of a good team and right now Héber needs it. City have no other proper striker to give Héber a run for his money thus creating a selection dilemma for Deila. That is of course until you factor in all the qualities Castellanos brings to the team. He can operate as a worthy number nine until Héber can find his goal-scoring form again.
Medina’s performance was one to forget as he made no contributions to City’s already lackluster attack. Questions remain on whether or not he can effectively play alongside fellow playmaker Moralez. For now, it seems Medina is best utilized coming off the bench. Making little-to-no impact, Medina disappeared entirely in the second half before making way for Gary Mackay-Steven.
Fans will be fuming at the front three but make no mistake, Deila has to take a lot of responsibility as well. In a game where keeping momentum and breaking the deadlock was essential, Deila made his first substitution in the 69th minute - too little too late. City’s attack was in need of a fresh pair legs to liven things up a bit. Deila had the team passively passing the ball around with no actual attacking intent. Barring the occasional threatening run, City were ultimately a butter knife gone dull trying to slice through United’s backline of eight players.
There were also some questionable decisions made by the officials that went against City. A handball in the first half was reviewed by VAR before concluding it was not enough to give a penalty. The real sucker punch however came when Castellanos was penalized for a handball. The build up play led to a goal before being disallowed. The revised rules suggest that despite the ball hitting Castellanos on the shoulder, it’s still not enough to give a handball but the referee thought otherwise.
Either way, City should really be critical of themselves instead of the officiating. Creativity wasn’t so much a problem in this game as was the finishing. A concerning issue that will have to be addressed in the upcoming match against FC Cincinnati.