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.
This space is for Hot Takes, yeah? So here we go: Tayvon Gray will become one of New York City FC’s great homegrown players.
At the end of a title-winning campaign, Gray showed a promise of being an all-encompassing, defensive fullback, and that world-class display in the postseason made him one of the standout players who helped lift the MLS Cup.
But I’ll admit that in the early days of this season I rated the likes of Malte Amundsen, Anton Tinnerholm (injury included), or even Andres Jasson above him when it came to starters. I had an air of caution when I’d see the Bronx native in the lineup. His form, like that of most of the squad, was off to a slow start. Clearly, that was due to the malaise caused by being MLS Champions and competing in legitimate continental competition. Then came that overall squad-dominating display against Real Salt Lake, when Gray cranked up his play to a new level.
Lately, he has put in some impressive performances.
Firstly, Gray wins tackles. He is a wall that is difficult to pass on the right side of the pitch. Winning tackles allows for him to continue to be a player that Alexander Callens, Thiago Martins, and Sean Johnson don’t have to worry about when they give him the ball because he constantly finds the feet of his fellow teammates. Gray continues to be a reliable passer at both ends of the pitch. This accuracy allows the Bronx native to be instrumental in providing the assist to the assisters of a goal (displayed brilliantly in our sweaty win against Dallas last week), or when beginning an attacking movement that leads to a goal.
His attacking prowess doesn’t stop there. He continues to show it through his swagger and flair as he carries the ball down the right side to a threatening degree. Typically beating out the opposition players, Gray understands how to get himself into positions to allow for an opportunity on goal. This is further compounded in his physical presence, which lets him fight through presses and win the ball in key positions.
Secondly, Gray’s defensive game is amplified through his positioning and awareness. Gray is a player that puts in the miles: He always hustles back on defense, granted that can be from a little too far up the pitch. Despite this, he understands how to position himself to win the ball off opposition passes and loose touches. Furthermore, he constantly blocks the ball – I’ve seen him get the ball out of the box at crucial moments.
This brings me to the main point, namely that he’s showing this level of understanding at the age of 19. He is a smart, consistent defender for NYCFC, and it makes me think that it’s only a matter of time until he is considered one of the team’s great players.
We’re halfway through a fierce MLS Season that has seen NYCFC get off to a shaky start, then deal with a manager turnover and constant speculation over other key players (cough, waits a bit...Taty). But Gray has proven to be a player that former head coach Ronny Deila and now interim head coach Nick Cushing can rely on and call on in any status of match. Being able to cement a spot in a squad at age 19 that features Amundsen is something of note. We have to consider who’s watching players like him as they develop at NYCFC and show so much promise at this age.
New York City currently sit in second place, and they look to be a strong candidate to retain the MLS Cup. If Gray continues to be a key player on this push to a second title, I can see him going the way of James Sands and going on loan to a club in Europe, or maybe even being sold rather than loaned. With Palermo FC joining City Football Group, Gray could see himself moved to Italy, or even the big daddy business club in Manchester.
All that speculation aside, I find myself enthralled in Gray’s play and can’t wait to see what he does in the side this season.