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Set pieces are key for NYCFC’s playoff run

New York City’s return to form owes much to goals scored from set pieces

MLS: New England Revolution at New York City FC
Corners and free kicks could hold the key to NYCFC’s success,
Mark Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Who will score goals for New York City FC is a question that has hung over the club ever since Taty Castellanos left for Girona FC. The number of goals the team has scored has been way down since his departure, but that’s not the only trend that’s emerged in recent weeks: NYCFC now score more often from set pieces.

For the sake of this article, set pieces are free kicks, corner kicks, and throw-ins. Yes, penalties are technically set pieces, but we’ll put goals scored from the spot in their own category for reasons that will become apparent.

Once you remove penalties from the equation, it’s staggering to see how much New York City now rely on set pieces to get on the scoreboard. In the 17 games when Taty was on the field, NYCFC scored 36 goals but only three from set pieces; in the 17 games when NYCFC were without Taty, the team scored just 21 goals, but six of those are from set pieces. To put it another way, only 8.3% of NYCFC’s goals were from set pieces when Taty played, but without him that figure leaps to 29%.

NYCFC 2022 Goals Scored by Type, MLS League Games

Period Goals Scored From Open Play From Set Pieces From Penalties
Period Goals Scored From Open Play From Set Pieces From Penalties
With Taty Castellanos 36 27 3 6
Without Taty Castellanos 21 14 6 1
Total 57 41 9 7

Looking at a smaller sample size, fully 37.5% of NYC’s goals have come from set pieces since the season turned around with the Campeones Cup win over Atlas FC. Since things have gotten better and faith has been restored in this team, the reliance on set pieces has only grown.

Set Pieces > Striker

Much of this has to do with the lack of a true striker who can consistently be relied on to put away his chances. Talles Magno has mostly been a miss at striker, even though he has occasionally shown flashes of quality. The striker situation is even murkier now as Talles Magno was subbed off on Decision Day due to an apparent shoulder injury, and with his status listed as questionable going into the First Round game against Inter Miami in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

NYCFC will need to fall back on set pieces when Talles Magno or Héber slide into another wandering, ineffective performance during a playoff game. When the open play attack is flat, NYC need to be able to capitalize on the corners and free kicks that are gifts to a struggling attack.

The importance of corners has only gone up as Alexander Callens has found himself in goal-scoring form recently, with three goals in his last four games in all competitions. Serving up a nice cross into the penalty area has proven effective in the past with Callens and even Maxime Chanot. It also just so happens that Inter Miami, concedes the fourth most corners per game in MLS.

Quality service

Part of why set pieces have been so effective is the quality of Maxi Moralez and Gabriel Pereira. Moralez and Pereira have served as the two main set piece takers, with Pereira’s role only growing as the season has gone on.

Corner kicks have been the main source of these set-piece goals, but free kicks could be a sleeping giant for NYC as Pereira has shown he has some magic in his feet. Even if it is Maxi taking the free kicks though, City can draw up a set piece play incredibly well. The best example of this just so happened to come against Miami in August.

Here it is:

Funny how things work out, isn’t it? NYCFC have relied on set pieces more and more as the season has gone on and just about their best set piece of the season came against Miami, who they now face in the first round.

This goal isn’t just set up by a great ball in from Maxi, but it’s the stuff off the training ground that takes it to the next level. The run from Chanot at the back post and then the header back toward Talles Magno is exactly the genius this team needs.

Even if the goals don’t come off free kicks like this one, they give NYCFC the opportunity to get everybody involved in the attack. That could lead to yet another Callens goal, or a chance for Chanot, Keaton Parks, or Santiago Rodríguez to get on the scoreboard. Just as important, it could also possibly jumpstart someone like Talles Magno or Héber, and get them flowing and into the game.

Look out for more inventive set pieces if the situation arises on Monday night for just that reason.