The brilliant form that New York City FC exhibited in the second half of Wednesday’s disappointing draw with the Seattle Sounders in the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals carried over to today’s league match against Real Salt Lake at Yankee Stadium.
NYCFC’s performance wasn't just dominant, it was one for the record books: The 6-0 scoreline matches last October’s victory over DC United for the biggest win in club history, and the “haul” scored by Taty Castellanos (a haul is four goals scored in a single game—had to look that one up), is the first-ever for a New York City player.
The Easter Sunday goal-fest goes a long way to wash away the bad taste left after getting knocked out of the CCL by Seattle earlier this week, to say nothing of a mediocre start to the 2022 MLS season that saw the team get just one win in five games. After coming within one point of falling to last place, NYCFC are now in a strong position to climb up the Eastern Conference table.
NYCFC: 22 shots, 12 on goal, 56.7% possession, 513 passes, 83.4% pass accuracy
RSL: 12 shots, 5 on goal, 43.3% possession, 382 passes, 74.9% pass accuracy
Last May, when The Outfield published “Valentín Castellanos Is The Best Striker In MLS,” it felt like a thought exercise: Castellanos was a promising if sometimes wasteful forward who had been pressed into the role of striker while Héber, a classic No. 9, was recovering from a torn ACL. Sure, he was good. But was he really the best?
It turns out that The Outfield is staffed by clairvoyants blessed with prophetic visions. Castellanos not only won the Golden Boot, he found a way to score in every playoff game that he played.
But 2022 hasn’t been easy on Castellanos. Talles Magno was slotted to his left, forcing him to play in a more central position, and now other teams mark him out of the game and treat him like the threat he always was. “I have to adapt and get used to it,” Castellanos said in an earlier interview with Hudson River Blue, promising that “the goals will come.”
He made adjustments, and today he delivered a haul. First there was a lofted cross from Malte Amundsen in the ninth minute that he headed past the goalkeeper like it was 2021 all over again, then there was a low and powerful penalty in the 40th-minute awarded after Keaton Parks was kicked in the face inside the box. The third goal was a less-convincing penalty in the 57th minute that RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath (good name), maybe should have saved. His fourth was a flukey deflection off 17-year-old defender Jaziel Orozco that counts the same as every other goal that any player scores.
Those four goals not just put Castellanos in the running for the Golden Boot, they help to settle up the bill for a striker who works hard for his team and hasn't always been getting the best service from other players.
What Castellanos accomplished today will deservedly be in the headlines tonight, but we shouldn’t forget Thiago’s two scintillating goals. The first came off a low, curling release from Talles Magno in the fifteenth minute that saw Thiago beat his marker and the keeper in arguably the best goal of the game:
His second goal in the 55th-minute followed a similar pattern: Thiago’s positioning and speed turned an attempt into a near-sure thing. This time it was Santiago Rodríguez who released Thiago to take the ball at the top of the box and launch it past a hapless MacMath.
Thiago can be a frustrating player to watch. A technical and pacy attacking midfielder who can cut open defenses with his footwork, Thiago can also lose focus and neglect to make the smart pass at the right time, or lose track of his defensive responsibilities. Let's hope the good form on display today becomes a habit.
Despite all the good feels, questions remain. Today's 6-0 victory might have been a resounding win, but it was over a weak opponent fielding a backup goalkeeper and a depleted defensive line. Not all MLS teams will be this easy to roll over.
Remember, the NYCFC defense is depleted as well: center-back Maxime Chanot is still out with an injury, and starting center-back Thiago Martins left the game in the 71st-minute with a minor strain. Martins is only just starting to perform at the level that his Designated Player contract demands, but he’s a better option than his unsteady replacement Vuk Latinovich. Either Chanot or Martins needs to be healthy if NYCFC are to build on this win.
The fact is if you go by the numbers, it should have been a much closer game: NYCFC over-performed today, and RSL was incredibly unlucky.
g+ GameFlow: MLS Regular Season @NYCFC v @RealSaltLake on April 17, 2022. #NYCFC #VamosNYC #RSL #DaleReal #NYCvRSL pic.twitter.com/a09GnZcsnj— GameFlow (@GameFlowxPG) April 17, 2022
But a game like this one is more emotional and psychological than it is tactical and analytical: It was a relief. The goals that have been so elusive this year finally came, and with it the victory.
New York City corrected course today, and the team is in a position to regain lost ground: This was the first game in a five-game homestand that could see NYCFC once again be the dazzling club that outplay and outscore every team they face.
NYCFC, Taty Castellanos 9’
NYCFC, Thiago Andrade 15’
NYCFC, Taty Castellanos 40’ (P)
NYCFC, Thiago Andrade 55’
NYCFC, Taty Castellanos 57’ (P)
NYCFC, Taty Castellanos 80’