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NYCFC’s midfield dilemma

Here’s how NYCFC’s lineup will look without Nicolás Acevedo, Keaton Parks, and Gideon Zelalem

Keaton Parks (55) of NYCFC celebrates scoring goal during...
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Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

With the news that New York City FC’s Keaton Parks will miss the MLS Cup playoffs, the question now is who will step up in Big Bird’s absence against Atlanta United?

While the Boys in Blue have depth in their roster the team has been ridden with injuries and suspensions all season long, and Sunday’s match against Atlanta will not be any different.

Gideon Zelalem replaced Parks on decision day against the Philadelphia Union. Zelalem started the game strong, but a red card limited him to just 21 minutes. Now Zelalem will be suspended for the game against Atlanta on Sunday.

With the injuries to Anton Tinnerholm and Nicolás Acevedo, the midfield and back-line are spread thin. USMNT call-up James Sands has been playing right back in lieu of Tinnerholm. Sands is NYCFC’s most diverse player and has shown time again he can play both sides of the field.

The ideal formation is having Sands in the midfield where Parks usually plays, and letting Tayvon Gray start at right-back. Gray, a Bronx native, made his first career start against Atlanta on October 20th, and the 1-1 draw was a turning point in the Pigeons’ season.

Head Coach Ronny Deila played Jesus Medina in the midfield in the past, and at one point favored him at the Number 8 spot. If Medina plays midfield Deila can choose from any of the three Brazilians to play the wing position: Thiago, Heber, or Talles Magno. Medina has shown flashes of brilliance but he is inconsistent, and is prone to turnovers. One misplayed ball could lead to a costly counter-attack finished by Josef Martinez.

Alfredo Morales is another strong option to replace Parks. Morales started 20 games in his first season with the club, and he has been in great form as of late. His natural position is the defensive midfield role: If NYCFC comes out in a 4-3-2-1 formation, Maxi Moralez and Santiago Rodriguez can play more of an attacking role in the midfield while relying on Morales to defend the middle.

Delia has had his fair share of criticism when it comes to starting lineups and late subs. Deila needs to find a replacement for Parks, which won’t be easy. All ears will be tuned to the announcement of the starting XI prior to Sunday’s game.