Everybody knew the first half of this season would be tough as far as personnel was concerned. Coming off of a disappointing 2020 season in which they were dealt another swift exit from the playoffs, New York City FC entered 2021 with their usual first-choice striker, Héber, out until at least the summer with a serious knee injury. This left Taty Castellanos as the club’s only true striker, a daunting situation that was exasperated by the lack of depth in the attack when it came to the wingers.
But all things considered, things weren’t all that bad to start the season. Despite tons of criticism heading into the season due to past performances, Castellanos delivered four goals in as many games to start the season. Additionally, Jesus Medina continued his resurgence under manager Ronny Deila with three goals of his own in that span. Even without the depth to perhaps be a true contender come the beginning of the season, NYCFC were proving the naysayers wrong by doing a lot with a little.
Teams abroad noticed as well. In the midst of his goalscoring run, Castellanos was linked to a move to Brazilian club Palmeiras, a rumor that became persistent and overbearing for everyone involved. It legitimately became a Twitter war between the clubs’ respective fans at one point. Alas, no such move happened and Taty signed a 5-year extension with the club. All is well, right?
Well, actually no.
Since signing that new juicy contract, Castellanos has failed to find the back of net. Like, at all. As a matter of fact, Taty hasn’t scored in his last 8 appearances with NYCFC. And that isn’t for a lack of chances. The young Argentinian has time and time again found himself in tasty positions, primed to score what is sure to be an easy tap-in. And then, he shoots it right at the keeper or misses the target entirely. It’s become beyond frustrating for any supporter to witness.
It’s not like the kid doesn’t have talent. We’ve seen on multiple occasions what Castellanos is capable of when he’s on his game. But when things aren’t right, they really aren’t right.
It seemed to culminate last night. NYCFC are on the road against a formidable Columbus Crew team that, despite missing some key players, look poised and ready to win in front of their fans for the first time in their shiny, new stadium (GIVE US ONE!).
NYCFC dominate. They out-possess the Crew 60-40. They outshoot them 21-6. 21 TO 6!!! With seven shots on target to boot, more than Columbus had in total shots. They finish with a total xG just under two, double that of their opponents.
The result? One goal. One measly goal in a 2-1 defeat, NYCFC’s second consecutive.
Of those shots, three of them came from Taty. And two of those shots were on goal, good for 33% of his club’s total. And not one of them trickled in. All of Taty’s subsequent attempts were nullified by being in an offside position.
And at this point, I can’t bear to watch it anymore.
I like Taty. I really do. He has always been extremely nice and cordial whenever our paths have crossed. And throughout his intermittent struggles, I’ve always rooted for him.
But there comes a time where, for better or worse, an example must be set by the powers that be. If I’m Ronny Deila coming out of that game, I’m putting my foot down and giving someone else a crack at it. Because with the halfway point in the season quickly approaching, the time for patience has come and gone. Years past have shown that the teams that can withstand the dog days of American summers usually have the best shot come the fall. And with the rich only getting richer in terms of the Eastern Conference standings with each passing week, NYCFC must find their way into a rhythm lest they be left behind.
So, if not Taty, who else? Well, there’s a few things you can do.
In stark contrast to the conditions of April, NYCFC have now built quite the attack. As a matter of fact, one could argue City have never been deeper in that department in their entire history, even with Héber and newest Designated Player Talles Magno on the mend. And for the first time ever, this depth could serve to facilitate a true False Nine approach.
Thiago Andrade and Santi Rodriguez are obvious candidates to fill this spot due to their technicality, whilst being flanked by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Jesus Medina along the wings.
At 5’11”, Thiago possesses the size to be a decent holdup man. On top of that, he’s insanely quick and good with the ball at his feet. Saturday night’s loss against the Crew served as Thiago’s first-ever MLS start and in it, he was shown to be a free roaming forward, finding himself on either flank and even in the middle from time to time. This positional freedom shows that he is capable of moving in between the lines and creating, if not for his teammates, then for himself.
Santi Rodriguez is an intriguing one because despite him still finding his way into the team, I like the little I’ve seen of him. He might not be stuffing the stat sheet, but the young Santi is doing everything right in terms of positioning, creating space, and distribution. With a larger share of minutes, I think it’s only a matter of time before his star shines bright in New York City. And as a natural attacking midfielder — and Maxi Moralez’s heir apparent — a False Nine role could play to all of his strengths, even if he lacks the size.
As for Taty Castellanos, keep him in the fold. Bring him on as a substitute between the 60th and 70th minute marks and have him build confidence against tired legs late in games. Because despite the the skid he currently finds himself in, it’s obvious to anyone who truly pays attention that the young man has talent. And eventually, a second chance will be in order.
And once Héber and Talles Magno come back, expect even more tough decisions.