Tuesday night New York City FC made history as it advanced to the Eastern Conference Final of the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time. While the win was euphoric, Valentin Castellanos’s late red card against the New England Revolution means the Boys in Blue will have to play without their leading scorer against the Philadelphia Union.
Who will fill the shoes of the Golden Boot winner?
The Cityzens have three Brazilians who are itching for action, and they may be the answer to NYCFC’s striker problem.
The 19-year old Talles Magno started five games this year. Castellanos missed only two games this year, and manager Ronny Deila chose Magno to start in his place. Magno scored his first career goal with the club in one of those games but has seen limited action since. While young and inexperienced, Magno has been eager to contribute to the club.
“I don’t think I have peaked,” said Mango prior to the Decision Day game against the Union. “I have a lot more to bring to the club to help bring a title.”
The second option is Thiago Andrade, a Brazilian who has shown he has a flair for dramatics. Thiago’s most memorable moment this season came against DC United, when he scored the game-winner in the final minute of the game. The 20-year-old from São Paulo has taken just 20 shots this season, but 10 of them were on target and four of those were goals. Thiago scored a huge penalty kick in the shootout against the Revs, which will build his confidence going into Sunday’s game. While Thiago has proven he can take on any defender one-on-one, he can get lost on the field without the ball, and he is a liability on defense.
Lastly, fan-favorite Héber is a proven goal-scorer. In 2019, Héber connected for 15 goals and four assists in 22 games. After an ACL injury left him out of action for 11 months, he returned to the field this season in a limited capacity. Heber has only played for 95 minutes in all of 2021, and while he has been available on the bench during the playoffs it is unclear if he is at 100% fitness.
Jesus Medina will be keeping an eye on who will be playing the number 9 position. Medina and Castellanos have built a rapport together despite all of Medina’s mishaps: The two work well together. While Medina has had many puzzling moments this season Deila, has favored him over Ismael Tajouri Shradi. You can make a case that Tajouri Shradi can also play striker. In June, Tajouri Shradi was on fire and scored in four consecutive games.
The Pigeons are no strangers to red cards as they led the league with eight in the regular season: Once again, NYCFC has its back against the wall.
But it hasn’t stopped the team yet in these playoffs. As Tayvon Gray put it, “That’s what we do, baby!”