The wait is over! The 2021 MLS season begins tonight. And for New York City FC, it isn’t high expectations that has people watching. Instead, it’s the intrigue that comes with the uncertainty of where exactly the Bronx-based outfit is as it pertains to their depth and their improvement — or deterioration — since their mediocre 2020 season.
So, what should people be looking for? Here are three things we think you should have an eye on when NYCFC faces D.C. United at Audi Field at 8:00 PM tonight.
It’s All Gudi
Whether it stemmed from his honking challenge in the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinal that cost NYCFC a shot at silverware, or him getting absolutely roasted against Tigres UANL in the Concacaf Champions league months ago, it became obvious to the Bronx Blues that Ronald Matarrita was no longer the answer for City at left back.
When Mata was effectively sold to FC Cincinnati over the offseason, speculation about who would become his successor began to pick up steam.
Since Mata’s departure, NYCFC have picked up two more left backs in Malte Amundsen and Chris Gloster. But Gloster’s inexperience and Malte’s late arrival leave Gudmundur “Gudi” Thórarinsson — Matarrita’s backup in 2020 — as the only reasonable option to step in come season’s start.
Amundsen arrived the day after NYCFC’s final preseason game against Hartford Athletic on April 10. And though he’s had a full week of training, odds are that he still has much to learn when it comes to NYCFC’s micromanaged and meticulous playstyle. Because of this, it’s only rational to expect Gudi to get the nod on Saturday.
Tonight’s game could be a defining moment for Thórarinsson depending on his performance. Should he show out, it could be hard to bench him. If he fails to impress, the door opens for Amundsen and Gloster to compete for the spot.
Andres Jasson - Heir Apparent?
Early in the preseason, there were plenty of questions regarding City’s depth in the attack. And in many ways, even according to head coach Ronny Deila, those questions still remain.
But the late signing of Brazilian winger Thiago Andrade has given NYCFC at least some cover for now. And despite not being much in the way of robust, the Bronx Blues still have plenty to draw from with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jesus Medina, Taty Castellanos (more on him in a minute), Maxi Moralez, and the aforementioned Andrade all healthy going into 2021.
Another name in that mix is youngster Andres Jasson, who is coming off a really quality preseason. The NYCFC Homegrown was involved in many of the team’s goals and has staked his claim for an honest look this season.
From the sounds of it, there is a good chance supporters will see Jasson tonight. And for City’s newest Homegrown, it will be the perfect opportunity to show he belongs in the starting lineup week after week.
Can Taty hold it down?
Until Héber returns, Taty Castellanos is City’s only option up top. But that might not be a bad thing.
The young Argentinian has been steadily improving since joining in 2018. And once Héber went down with an injury, Castellanos stepped up valiantly in his place. Taty was a constant presence in the final third — even when he wasn’t scoring, he was creating space, drawing fouls, and linking with the flanks.
And in the goalscoring department, Castellanos has proven to be viable with 6 goals in 14 starts last year, including a hat trick against the rival New York Red Bulls in what was a 5-2 win.
Héber won’t be back until at least late May. For Taty, this is a huge opportunity to stake his claim that he isn’t just a backup and should be considered for the lineup even when Héber ultimately becomes available.
Tonight is his chance to prove that he’s more than just OK.