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Farewell to Anton Tinnerholm, NYCFC’s rock at right back

The Tinnerboom was one of the best fullbacks in MLS; his return to Sweden leaves NYCFC with a big hole to fill

We’ll always be family.
Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy

Welcome to the latest edition of Hot Take, in which a Hudson River Blue contributor takes a highly subjective stand on a topic and gives you their deeply biased opinion.

The first domino has fallen in New York City FC’s offseason overhaul, as Anton Tinnerholm confirmed in an interview that he will be heading back to Sweden to rejoin his old club Malmö FF. He was first linked with a return to his former club right before the MLS Cup Playoffs began, and now appears to have confirmed the move, ending what was a dominant five-year spell with NYCFC.

Before Tinnerholm arrived, right back was a position of uncertainty and mediocrity for NYCFC. The team cycled through players plucked sometimes from obscurity, leaning on the likes of Jeb Brovsky, RJ Allen, Ethan White, and Andraž Struna. That changed when Tinnerholm joined on a free transfer ahead of the 2018 season, and he’s had a vise-like grip on the starting RB job ever since.

The Swede brought a new dimension to NYCFC, creating goals and assists from right back while not sacrificing defensive solidity. He was durable and productive, and it wasn’t much of a Hot Take to say he was the best right back in MLS during his first four seasons in New York. He was, as our friends over at The Outfield like to say, good at soccer.

Having a threat like Tinnerholm marauding up the right flank played into NYCFC’s strengths, as he helped attackers like David Villa, Maxi Moralez, and Taty Castellanos thrive in front of goal. It’s no coincidence Tinnerholm’s arrival also coincided with NYCFC becoming stouter defensively. The Tinnerboom was a key part of tightening up what was a leaky defense, as he solidified the backline alongside Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, and Sean Johnson. That group would gel beautifully over the years, growing into a championship-caliber backline that laid the foundation for all that the club achieved in recent seasons.

Tinnerholm ends his NYCFC tenure with the second-most assists in club history, with his 21 in all competitions behind only Maxi Moralez’s 57 (he’s called the Little Genius for a reason). Then there were the goals, and oh my some of them were majestic. You don’t get handed a nickname like Tinnerboom without scoring bangers, particularly ones like this thunderous bar-down volley that rattled the San Jose Earthquakes back in 2018.

The man wore his passion on his sleeve and did not stop running and pushing his team forward while he was on the pitch. His attributes were those of a leader and a winner, and it’s depressing knowing he won’t be putting on the Bronx Blue again. It’s even extra sad when you remember how Tinnerholm’s involvement with NYCFC’s run to MLS Cup glory was cut short by that brutal Achilles rupture he suffered in October 2021. It seems like a distant memory now, but at the time of the injury, missing Tinnerholm looked like it would be extremely costly. NYCFC lost one of the league’s best at his position not long before the MLS Cup playoffs, and had no experienced backup to turn to as a replacement.

Thankfully, young Tayvon Gray stepped into the void and turned in a string of solid performances en route to reaching playoff glory. Gray’s emergence was no doubt a factor in Tinnerholm saying goodbye, but it wasn’t the only one. Anton earned $800,000 in 2022, his final year under contract with NYCFC, and struggled to shake the injury bug. After fully rehabbing his Achilles, he suffered two other leg injuries that caused him to miss time, leaving him only fit enough to appear in 13 of NYCFC’s 47 matches played this year. Tinnerholm referred to 2022 as “the worst year in my life, football-wise,” so it’s unsurprising he’d want a fresh start elsewhere.

His high salary, advancing age (he turns 32 in February), sketchy recent injury record, and the existence of a cheaper in-house replacement (Tayvon Gray earned $145,000 in 2022) all seem to make this a logical split for both NYCFC and Tinnerholm. The practicality of the business decision doesn’t make parting any less bittersweet, though. Right backs like him don’t grow on trees, and fullback was already a point of weakness on the roster before parting with Tinnerholm.

Finding a replacement will fall to sporting director David Lee, who faces other monumentally important decisions this offseason, with players like Sean Johnson and Alexander Callens out of contract, Maxi Moralez’s status uncertain, and Santi Rodriguez’s loan set to expire. Losing Anton Tinnerholm is not unexpected, but it’s still significant, and it creates more uncertainty ahead of what could be a significant overhaul of the NYCFC roster.

All that can be done now is to be thankful for the years spent watching the man from Linköping swashbuckle his way up and down that right flank, and to wish him well in his return to his homeland. The Tinnerboom will be missed in New York City, but here’s hoping he bangs in a few more frame-rattling goals in Sweden before his playing days are done.