New York City FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps played to a 0-0 draw last night on the artificial turf at BC Place. City put in a stronger performance than they did last week, when they had a single shot on goal in a hapless loss last week to LA Galaxy, but they didn't take advantage of the chances they created and have yet to score a goal in the MLS 2022 season.
It was the fourth consecutive road game for NYCFC. The team has been essentially living out of a bag since preseason training started in mid-January, traveling to Florida, Mexico, Costa Rica, California, and now British Columbia. Last night, the team went straight from BC Place stadium to the airport to take a redeye charter to New York — NYCFC host Guatemalan side Comunicaciones FC in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals on Tuesday, March 8, and the club wanted the players to have a rest day at home before preparing to play another game on short rest.
There's nothing like soft-scrambled eggs on a toasted bagel at home to start the week off right.
Possession without purpose
NYCFC looked more capable than they did last week when they had trouble stringing together a coherent run of play against the Galaxy. True, Vancouver wasn't as formidable of an opponent, but let’s give credit to the NYCFC midfield and attack for working the ball along the left flank and into the middle, and keeping the Whitecaps off-balance throughout the first half. Talles Magno was particularly menacing, dropping back to pick up the ball and bring it into the attacking third.
The stats support what we saw on the field: 19 shots, four on target, 71% possession, 636 passes. In many ways, it was a dominating performance.
And yet NYCFC never really looked dangerous. Those pretty passages of possession often ended with a careless giveaway, or a forced pass that tried to do too much. The problem of possession without purpose became even more pronounced after the 64th minute, when Héber, Santiago Rodríguez, and Gedion Zelalem came on for Taty Castellanos, Keaton Parks, and Thiago. What should have been a more progressive attack almost completely ceded the middle of the field to a Vancouver team who had the time and space to stay organized and keep NYCFC pinned back in their own half.
Ronny Deila, substitution king
Even if the subs didn’t work out as expected, manager Ronny Delia’s newfound love of the tactical substitution is to be applauded. Famously resistant to making subs in the 2021 season no matter how flat the play or depleted the players, Deila now seems to be exploring how to change the trajectory of a game by changing the shape of his team.
Deila has the players to pull it off. Four legit attackers, four creative midfielders, three central defenders: The current NYCFC squad is easily the most flexible and dynamic team in club history. When Deila brought on Thiago Martins in the 79th minute for Alfredo Morales and moved the defensive line to a back three, NYCFC launched a series of attacks that almost grabbed the win. It didn’t work this time, but as the team learns the system you could see it being used to tremendous effect over the course of the season.
You can't win if you don’t score
Still, soccer is a game that’s decided by the goals you score, not the week-over-week statistical improvements you log. This was a draw that should’ve been a win, but that can only happen if you make a goal—NYCFC woefully underperformed if you’re to believe they had an xG of 1.91.
Not to put too fine a point on it, NYCFC have yet to find the back of the net this season, while our frenemies just across the Hudson River have scored seven goals in two road wins.
Yes, NYCFC posted an impressive 6-0 goal tally against Santos de Guápiles in the two-leg CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 matches, but this MLS Cup-winning club can't rely on streaky runs of goals to get them through the 2022 league season. The creativity that was completely absent last week surfaced at times yesterday, but the ruthlessness in front of goal that characterized NYCFC in the 2021 postseason was nowhere to be seen.
NYCFC is going to play on short rest again twice this week, and twice next—the CONCACAF Champions League schedule was always going to be difficult to navigate. Now is the time for Delia and the club to figure out how to win MLS games while playing for international silverware.
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