It was a frustrating afternoon for NYCFC, who have won only one game in MLS league play so far this year and fell to ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia are now on a four-game unbeaten streak and climbed to the top of the MLS table with 10 points after four games—to add insult to injury, the Union are off to their best start to the season in club history after this visit to the Bronx.
NYCFC: 18 shots, 3 on goal, 73.2% possession, 588 passes, 81.5% pass accuracy
Philadelphia Union: 13 shots, 4 on goal, 26.8% possession. 219 passes, 50.7% pass accuracy
NYCFC might have controlled the ball for most of the game, but they rarely looked dangerous in the attacking third. A disciplined Union defense held turned their penalty box into a bunker and were happy to let the NYCFC run around the midfield like puppies chasing insects in the backyard. The defensive clinic put on by Union center backs Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes deserve as much credit for Philadelphia’s win as the opportunistic goals scored by Alejandro Bedoya in the 12th minute and Dániel Gazdag in the 33rd minute: In a game decided by how the backlines performed, Philadelphia was organized kept their focus while New York City made costly mistakes.
We need to talk about Jasson
It might be unfair to single out a particular player on a day when nobody on the team covered himself in glory, but momentary defensive lapses by Andres Jasson figured into both of Philadelphia’s goals. In the first, Jasson left Bedoya unmarked, letting the Union captain lash a deflected ball into the back of the net. In the second, Jasson didn’t track Gazdag, allowing the midfielder to get on the end of a goalmouth cross and tap in what turned out to be the nail in NYCFC’s coffin.
While Jason might have made costly mistakes, the blame shouldn’t be placed entirely on the shoulders of a third-choice defender playing out of position and conscripted into the role of wingback because of a recent injury to Tayvon Gray and the long-term rehabilitation of Anton Tinnerholm.
As we explained in his 2022 Player Preview, Jason came through the NYCFC Academy as an attacker, and he’s at his best when challenging the opposing defense and slicing crosses into the box. The 20-year-old is not a natural defender, and if NYCFC are going to keep it together until Gray is once again match-fit he will need more support from center back Thiago Martins and the rest of the defensive line. NYCFC need to compensate for his shortcomings or other teams will continue to take advantage of them.
A game decided by defenses
If the disorganized and vulnerable NYCFC defense played the greatest part in contributing to New York’s loss, Union’s organized and taut defense set the stage for Philadelphia’s win. The defensive g+ of the two sides bear that out: NYCFC had a defensive g+ of -0.14, while Union had a defensive g+ of 1.03.
That’s an appallingly poor showing for NYCFC, and easily the club’s worst defensive appearance in 2022: Even in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Comunicaciones FC in the CONCACAF Champions League, when blunders by NYCFC let one goal after another slip through, New York City had a defensive g+ of 0.63.
Numbers only mean so much, but you could see the lack of cohesion on the field. Does the defense miss the leadership of Maxime Chanot, who has been benched in favor of Martins? Chanot might have lost a step in recent years, but his intensity kept the backline at attention, and his on-field chemistry with Alexander Callens made them one of the best center-back pairings in MLS. Martins might be NYCFC’s future, and his Designated Player contract could factor into manager Ronny Deila’s decision to play him over Chanot, but under his leadership the defense gave away six goals in two games.
Follow your breath
Before we consider the 2022 MLS season a lost cause and rip the stars off our Authentic Bowie Kits, let’s recite the mantra that has kept us centered since New York City’s competitive games started in February: NYCFC has the stupidest schedule in all of MLS and the CCL.
To update what we wrote last week, NYCFC had one game in Costa Rica, one game in Guatemala, three games on the West Coast, and one “home” game 120 miles outside of New York City in Connecticut. Out of eight competitive matches this year, five of which were played on short rest, NYCFC played just two games at Yankee Soccer Stadium.
That works out to about 11,000 air miles, and at least 21 nights in hotels—and that doesn't include the preseason training in Orlando and Cancun that fed directly into the CCL. The club has tried to put a good face on it, but there's no question that all that travel – all those time zones, all those breakfast buffets, all those hotel room thermostats, all those team call times in the lobby – takes a toll.
By comparison, Philadelphia has played four games: Two at home, one in Montréal, one in New York. All were on full rest.
Not that we’re making excuses and claiming that Philadelphia won only because NYCFC were stuck in Guatemala City until Thursday, and New York City’s game against Vancouver was also winnable if it wasn't for all the travel, and really the Pigeons should have nine points and the Union only seven, so if MLS and the CCL played fair then NYCFC should be in first place. That kind of reasoning is too small-minded to express here.
But it is important to note that NYCFC just finished what feels like the most taxing travel schedule in the history of MLS, maybe even in the history of all sports, and that the international break will give the players and staff a much-needed opportunity to rest up and recharge. The April schedule isn’t as nutty as what the team just endured, but there will be two CCL Semifinal matches against Seattle Sounders and one cross-country trip, and if NYCFC are to advance they need to rediscover the focus and determination that have been missing in recent games.
Besides, after this emotion-filled week, NYCFC fans could use a little time off, too.