The defense of the title began in typical New York City FC, with an uninspiring loss.
The 1-0 defeat to LA Galaxy marks the third year in a row that NYCFC lost the opening game by one goal. In 2021, DC United won 2-1. In 2020, Columbus defeated the Pigeons in manager Ronny Deila’s first MLS match by a score of 1-0. The 2022 season continues this opening day streak, and while both of the previous seasons turned out to be mostly satisfactory, there is still room for some reactions—even overreactions.
So, here we go. Overreactions from Game One.
Nícolas Acavedo and Alfredo Morales cannot control a midfield
NYCFC were out-possessed 54% to 46% against the Galaxy, and both Nícolas Acevedo and Alfredo Morales looked invisible for the most part. Besides Acavedo’s early foul trouble, where questionable refereeing saw him earn an early yellow card, both he and Alfredo had trouble laying their stamp upon the game. Acevedo lost possession of the ball five times, while Morales was dispossessed 11 times. Both combined for five tackles and two interceptions. They also won seven ground duels out of a possible 14—by comparison, Galaxy’s Mark Delgado and Rayan Raveloson won a combined six out of their seven ground duels.
Morales and Acevedo did not have a single dribble completed between them. Comparatively, Keaton Parks had two completed dribbles and set up Heber for a wide-open chance in just 27 minutes of field time. For most of the game, NYCFC were missing a ball-carrying midfielder who could link the offense and defense together. Parks has shown he can be that guy, but until he’s healthy enough to play a full 90-minutes the midfield will be a concern for Deila.
Fullbacks, or wingbacks?
Both Tayvon Gray and Malte Amundsen held their own against the flurry of attacking talent the Galaxy threw their way. As a whole, NYCFC looked good defensively. But on the other end of the pitch, both fullbacks were essentially non-existent.
Amundsen and Gray were not involved in any potent attacks. Amundsen lost the ball 14 times, had a completed pass percentage of 81.5%, and accurately crossed one out of his three attempts. On the other flank, Gray lost the ball 18 times, completed only 57.7% of his passes, and was inaccurate on all four of his cross attempts. In other words: Anton Tinnerholm, please come back soon.
Gray put in respectable-to-excellent shifts in the playoff run, but his lack of attacking threat in this game left an offense predicated on fullback width. It’s a little too one-dimensional. It’s also worth noting that Amundsen had been the more defensive choice at left-back last season: Gudi Thorarinson replaced him in the MLS Cup Final last year, and notched two assists off the bench against New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union. Amundsen and Gray need to increase their attacking production for NYCFC to win games.
No attack against a weak defense
Both the lack of control in the midfield and the absence of attacking fullbacks were important factors in Sunday’s stagnant attack. NYCFC couldn’t break down the Galaxy’s defense as Santiago Rodríguez and Talles Magno didn’t have fullbacks making runs and dragging defenders from them.
Similarly, there was no box-to-box midfielder who could carry the ball from Maxime Chanot to Castellanos, forcing the central defender to launch long balls directly to the striker. NYCFC only played 26% of the game in the Galaxy’s area, versus 31% the other way. When the ball reached the likes of Maxi Moralez, Rodríguez, and Talles Magno in stride, the intricate sequences we remember from last year were often off by one touch or pass. Chances were there when NYCFC had numbers in the wide areas, and both Talles Magno and Castellanos missed excellent opportunities inside the Galaxy’s six-yard box, but the attack was mostly non-existent.
There’s cause for concern when one of the worst defensive teams in MLS over these last several seasons held the Pigeons to a blank score.