As many fans still fight to make up for lost sleep after a heartbreaking penalty kick loss against Pumas UNAM in the Leagues Cup that lasted well into Thursday morning, NYCFC will have no time to dwell on what could have been as they kick off less than 72 hours later against Inter Miami at their makeshift home of Red Bull Arena.
On paper, NYCFC (3rd in the Eastern Conference) should breeze past an Inter Miami side that finds itself third from bottom comfortably at “home”. However, this is not a game that they can afford to look past and may be more difficult than expected. Here’s why:
Fatigue: NYCFC is facing the most congested part of their season’s schedule to this point. This will be their 5th game in the past 15 days. While we have highlighted the depth of NYCFC, the minutes are sure to be catching up to the players, especially after a hot, rainy, humid night(morning?) in the Bronx on Wednesday/Thursday. With more heat in the forecast for Saturday, I expect there to be some tired legs in the City squad, especially for forward Taty Castellanos who has started every game this year due to lack of center forward depth.
Rotation: Given what is noted above, I would anticipate that NYCFC Manager Ronny Deila will continue to rotate his squad for the match against Miami. Look for players like Thiago, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Malte Amundsen, Alfredo Morales, and maybe even Talles Magno to play a part in this match. With Tayvon Gray leaving the match in discomfort early against Pumas and Anton Tinnerholm coming off of a small knock, there are also question marks about the right back spot. While strength in depth is certainly a good problem to have, we have seen in the past that teams who rotate that much of their squad from match to match can struggle to find their groove.
The Opposition: After a humiliating 5-0 home loss against league-leading New England Revolution just 3 weeks ago, many laughed at this Inter Miami squad. It was considered old, slow, and disjointed. However, it seems to have served as a bit of a wake-up call for Manager Phil Neville and his squad. Since then, Inter Miami are unbeaten in 4 matches and are arguably playing their best soccer since entering MLS.
There is quality in the Inter squad that NYCFC will have to be wary of. Gonzalo Higuain is past his best but has shown he can still be lethal with the ball at his feet in the box. Rodolfo Pizarro is back from Gold Cup duty and can unlock a defense, and World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi is still patrolling the midfield. Miami’s defense has improved and looked solid in their last 4 matches, and with NYCFC at times struggling to convert chances, the Pigeons will need to be more clinical than they have shown in recent matches.
This is a very important game for New York City as it represents a great chance to pick up three points before a midweek road match against a strong Philadelphia Union side and next weekend’s first Hudson River Derby of the season against the New York Red Bulls. Results have been cruel at times to NYCFC this season, with some great performances not being rewarded with wins. Regardless, as we enter the second half of the season, it is time for the team to convert those chances into goals, and draws into wins.
Official prediction: I predict a hard fought 2-1 win for City. Inter Miami is better rested, in decent form, and has more confidence than we have seen from them in recent matches and New York City will need to guard against a sluggish start and play a complete 90 minutes. But there is more than enough quality in the squad to get all three points. I look for Taty to get back on the scoresheet, and for this performance to favorably kick off what is arguably the biggest week of the season so far.