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Super subs

How Ronny Deila’s substitutions changed the game, and won the Eastern Conference Final

New York City FC v Philadelphia Union: 2021 MLS Playoffs - Eastern Conference Final
What's that, you want me to sub in?
Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

New York City FC’s tickets are booked for the 2021 MLS Cup in Portland, where the Portland Timbers and their army of supporters await. NYCFC’s success yesterday against the Philadelphia Union came from one of the most heavily criticized aspects of Ronny Deila’s tenure: Substations. Deila is not known for not making timely subs, but yesterday he brought on Talles Magno, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and Gudmundur Thórarinsson in the 58th minute. Those three players went on to impact the game heavily, and ultimately win it for NYCFC.

After an extremely lackluster first-half performance that was crying out for some kind of change, it was a relief to see Magno, Tajouri-Shradi, and Thórarinsson standing next to the Fourth Official early in the second half.

Talles Magno

Magno replaced Héber, who was called to start in place of Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos. All love to Héber, but he looked out of his depth the whole game. He failed to get involved in the attack, highlighting NYCFC’s reliance this year on Taty Castellanos’s outlet play. To be fair to Héber, he came into Sunday’s match with a total of 95 minutes under his belt this season, and with no starts. That might explain his performance, but it doesn’t excuse it. In his 58 minutes versus Philadelphia, Héber had zero shots taken, completing six out of his nine pass attempts.

The 19-year-old Magno went on to score the winning goal that cemented NYCFC’s first trip to the MLS Cup Final. He impacted the game from the minute he stepped on the field. Magno’s movement, as vocalized by the MLS Postgame show, was Castellanos-like. In 32 minutes of play Magno completed 100% of his passes, 90% of which were going forward. Of course, Magno’s biggest contribution was the winning goal. He took just two shots, but the second went in and secured the club’s first trophy.

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi

For seemingly the thousandth time this season, Jesus Medina played a lackluster and uninspired game. He followed up his poor attacking performance against the Revs with a similarly underwhelming game against the Union. He completed 20 of his 28 passes attempted in just under an hour played and generated just one shot, an open look at the top of the box that ended its course of flight safely in the hands of Union goalkeeper Matt Freese.

Medina’s inability to get involved was contrasted by Tajouri-Shradi’s impressive performance. From the minute Tajouri-Shradi was on the field he was picking up the ball and running at the Philadelphia back-line benchwarmers. While his contribution to the game-tying goal wasn’t easy on the eye, his attempted shot (or was it a pass?) found its way to Maxi’s thankful boots and eventually into the back of the net. Tajouri-Shradi was deservedly credited with the assist: His creativity in the final third changed the flow of the game.

Gudmundur Thórarinsson

Left-back Malte Amundsen, who arguably had his best performance this season playing against the New England Revolution on Tuesday, had a poor game yesterday, to say the least. He failed to keep the ball, and didn’t launch crosses into dangerous areas for the attacking players. In fact, he only made one cross in his 58 minutes on the field, and completed just 30 of 42 attempted passes. While the team didn’t concede during his time on the field Amundsen seemed off-synch, misplacing passes or misreading runs forward.

While Amundsen’s performance against the Revolution last week was impressive, it was Thórarinsson who made the assist for the go-ahead goal in that game. Yesterday, it was Thórarinsson again who came off the bench and made key contributions. In 32 minutes, Thórarinsson completed 18 out of his 20 attempted passes. His greatest impact came in the 88th minute, when he took the ball off of the nonchalant Mbaizo and slotted a pass perfectly into the path of Magno—who hammered the ball home for the winner.

Ronny Deila, game-changer

Delia’s substitutions changed the flow of the game. While the first half was mostly flat, the Union came out swinging in the second half and looked the more dangerous of the two sides.

Deila deserves credit for identifying the lack of production from Heber, Amundsen, and Medina and replacing them with players who impacted the game immediately. Substitutions are a narrative that has caused Deila the most criticism, but in this crucial game, it was his substitutions that should earn him the most praise.