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NYCFC’s inspiring victory over LAFC is the positive turning point it needs

MLS: New York City FC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Four minutes was all it took for LAFC to take over New York City FC’s second half. Four minutes of being held hostage in its own half. Four minutes of a cycle of a failed string of passes that LAFC repeatedly cut out before the ball crossed the 50-yard line. Four minutes that ended with a through ball to Mark-Anthony Kaye, catching NYCFC’s back line flat-footed before Kaye’s deflected low cross found Corey Baird for the tap-in finish to make it 1-0 56 minutes in.

10 minutes after Baird’s opener, the momentum shifted. Head coach Ronny Deila, abandoned the reliable 3-5-2 formation and made four substitutions at once for the first time this season, which featured the return of Anton Tinnerholm and the debut of Brazilian starlet Talles Magno. That large change in personnel introduced a high-pressing 4-3-3 that led to Jesus Medina’s 70th minute equalizer just four minutes later.

NYCFC’s 2-1 win over the Black and Gold was the perfect way to overcome the May 22 collapse against Columbus. Much like the Crew last weekend who trailed 1-0 until the 82nd minute and were outplayed by NYCFC to that point, NYCFC used its equalizer to generate momentum in the latter stages of Saturday’s victory. Momentum that would lead to Ismael Tajouri-Shradi’s 90th minute game-winner after going down to 10-men four minutes earlier.

The Boys in Blue solidified their bid back into the playoff picture and provided a glimpse of their depth with its new acquisitions and players returning to full form. It was a much needed turning point that came with an inspiring end-game performance that proved why NYCFC is poised to make its sixth consecutive playoff run.

Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s comeback win.

Having the three healthy center backs matters

MLS: New York City FC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Both Alex Callens and Maxime Chanot left the match against Toronto FC, and NYCFC was lucky to have one of them back a week later against Columbus. Sebastien Ibeagha filled in for Callens against the Crew and proved just how important 90 minute center backs are to Deila’s system. Ibeagha’s strength on aerial battles and 50-50 challenges is arguably unmatched across NYCFC’s squad, but so is his low stamina, which led to a costly foul in the 95th minute ahead of the Crew’s game winner on the ensuing free kick.

But yesterday, the center back trio of Chanot, Callens and James Sands proved why NYCFC is so dominant in its 3-5-2 setup. NYCFC won a season-high 11 tackles and 52 duels with Callens and Sands combining for 16 of the duels won.

Chanot and Callens have been consistent starters on NYCFC’s defense for four straight seasons, and a three-man back line allows them to be the stay-at-home defenders they want to be. This allows James Sands to shift into his natural defensive midfield position occasionally, allowing him to be more involved in City’s offensive buildup, orchestrating the attack centrally through Maxi Moralez or sending a long ball to one of the two forward targets.

Since its introduction in 2019 by Domé Torrent, the 3-5-2 has been the reason for NYCFC’s success, with the Chanot-Callens-Sands trio anchoring it since its induction. As long as they can stay healthy, it should give NYCFC very little to worry about defensively.

Saturday may have been Andres Jasson’s final start

MLS: New York City FC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one decision Deila has to make defensively, it has to be regarding who will take over the two starting wingback roles. It seems as if Gudmundur Thorarinsson was facing the consequences of his costly foul that led to the Crew’s 82nd minute equalizer last Saturday and should be back in the lineup a week from now.

But with a healthy Anton Tinnerholm, that jeopardizes Jasson’s chances of keeping his starting role in the XI. It would not be a performance based decision if Deila opts to sit Jasson. As MLS’ ninth-most fouled player, Jasson has been one of the most involved players thus far and has adapted well to a midseason position change to right wingback.

And with consistent goal scoring from Medina and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, it seems that the 19-year-old — who unexpectedly landed high on Deila’s winger depth chart during preseason — may not be ready enough to challenge the league’s top scorers for their starting roles, especially with the addition of Brazilian wingers Magno and Thiago Andrade.

Through seven appearances this season, Jasson has more than proven that he is MLS-ready. He can handle the league’s speed and physical play, and has clutched up when needed, denying Carlos Vela of a clear opening goal 29 minutes into Saturday’s game.

But for right now, he’s the odd man out.

Welcome Talles Magno

Magno entered during the mass substitution at the 66th minute mark but exited 20 minutes later after the Nicolas Acevedo red card. Magno played a supporting role on Medina’s equalizer. Magno, along with Tajouri-Shradi simultaneously pressed the LAFC back line forcing Kaye’s defensive hiccup, allowing Tinnerholm to set Medina up for his fifth goal of the season.

Minutes later, Magno stuck out an outstretched left leg to intercept an LAFC pass at midfield that led to a 4-on-3. The 18-year-old’s 20-minute stint was nowhere near a proper introduction to the hard nosed nature of MLS, but it is obvious that he will fit in following a brief adjustment period. As his knee improves, so will his minutes.

The Next Three Games Will Shape NYCFC’s season

MLS: New York City FC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

NYCFC are set to host the New England Revolution, Atlanta United and D.C. United at the conclusion of the two-week international break. Then it will go on to play its toughest five games of the season — two against the Columbus Crew, two against CF Montreal, and one against Orlando City.

A healthy NYCFC can compete with anyone in MLS, especially against three teams that are entering the break with a win or draw. The Eastern Conference has already proven itself to be an even playing-field through the first seven weeks, with only one point separating third place NYCFC (11pts) and eighth place Atlanta.

Winning its first of two intra-conference matches of the season leaves NYCFC in a perfect position to carry such momentum into its June-July games, with very winnable fixtures that follow those eight games to the end of the season.