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Are NYCFC MLS Cup favorites?

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New data suggests the Boys in Blue may be the best in MLS

MLS: Orlando City SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

NYCFC’s 5-0 win over Orlando City over the past weekend was cathartic to say the least. To that point, all the metrics and stats behind City’s previous performances supported the narrative that they’re among the best MLS has to offer in the present day. Unfortunately, the results weren’t really reflective of that — a disappointing loss here, scrappy 1-0 win there.

But against their fellow 2015 expansion compatriots, NYCFC finally exploded on offense and staked their claim as one of the most dominant sides when everything clicks. Yes, Orlando wasn’t necessarily at full strength. But neither were the Boys in Blue who have been without defensive mastermind James Sands, netminder Sean Johnson, primary talisman Héber, and new DP Talles Magno. And to any of our more consistent readers, you already know my opinion on excuses.

To anyone who’s been paying attention to this point, NYCFC is the biggest sleeping giant in MLS. Despite a collection of disappointing results, the Boys in Blue are among the most well-rounded sides in all of MLS. According FBRef, NYCFC rank second in xG (expected goals) per 90 with 1.89, just behind Sporting Kansas City who have 1.92. Additionally, they rank first in npxG (non-penalty expected goals) per 90, with 1.79.

A huge factor to this is replacement striker Taty Castellanos who, despite not being clinical in front of net, has done tons of good work in virtually every other area. He leads MLS in total xG with 10.6, firmly above current MLS goalscoring leader Raul Ruidiaz of the Seattle Sounders. He’s also dominant in total npxG with 9.1, with his closest competition being Adam Buska of the New England Revolution who has 8.3. The only issue that Taty is currently faced with is consistently putting the ball into the back of the net.

So yeah, NYCFC and its players are leading in some impressive areas that football nerds go wild for. But at the end of the day, not enough people care about those tiny (but important) details. The question that everyone wants answered is this: is NYCFC good enough to finally live up to the hype and win the MLS Cup?

For some analysts, that answer is yes!

According to FiveThirtyEight, New York City FC is currently the odds-on favorite to hoist silverware come the end of the 2021 season, though not by much. As of right now, NYCFC is tops in offense and third on defense in FiveThirtyEight’s ratings system, and are slight favorites to win the MLS Cup — City are currently listed as having a 17% chance, with New England being close behind on a 15% chance.

When looking at the table, NYCFC are currently 5th best in the Eastern Conference on 23 points. On the surface, that isn’t all that great. Upon further inspection, however, they could be the second best team in the East, if only in theory.

Going into this weekend, City are only three points off of second place Nashville SC with a game in hand, and have two games in hand on the leading Revs. They also have one and two games in hand on the teams right above them — Columbus Crew and the Philadelphia Union respectively. The Crew and Union are both on 24 points.

Right now, New York City control their own destiny for the most part when it comes to a majority of the teams in the East. But if we theoretically give them six points in their next two games, they are still four points below New England and will require some results to go their this summer.

Still, FiveThirtyEight’s analysis and the stats are telling. The only thing that is keeping NYCFC back from winning everything they aspire to win and being on top of the table is the lack of clinical finishing in front of net; chance creation and defense are of no concern at time. And with primary striker Héber about a month away from his return from injury, this is an area where you can only expect improvement. Héber and Taty both played at their best when they were paired up top in a fluid 3-52 system in 2019 under Domé Torrent. And so far in 2021, manager Ronny Deila has seemed willing to give that system a shot and has had some success.

On top of that, once NYCFC has players like Sands, Johnson, Héber, and Magno back in the fold, they will only continue to get better. Even if the results haven’t been phenomenal up to this point, all signs point to a massive improvement as we get deeper into the summer and head into the fall.