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HRB Roundtable: Reactions to Taty Castellanos departing NYCFC

Hudson River Blue’s panel of experts discuss the striker’s move to Spain and his legacy at New York City FC

Legend.
Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy NYCFC.com

Welcome to the latest edition of the Hudson River Blue Roundtable, in which Calvin Daniel, Noah Kassell-Yung, Andrew Leigh, Anthony McKenna, and Rafael Noboa y Rivera reflect on Taty Castellanos leaving New York City FC to join Girona FC in La Liga for a one-year loan.

How are you feeling about the news?

Anthony McKenna: Not good at all. Extremely worried about how this team will consistently score goals going forward. Sad that two cornerstones of the championship team are already gone. Taty was such a joy to watch, it’ll be sad not watching every week anymore.

Raf Noboa y Rivera: Wistful, to be honest. Does Castellanos leaving sting a little bit? Sure, it does. But this is the best move for everyone. We’ve known that he’s wanted to leave for a while now, he’s leaving under good terms, and the team’s investment in his development is literally paying off. This is what you want to see.

Calvin Daniel: As much as I knew it was coming I still hate that he’s leaving. He’s been such an amazing player to have in the City Blue, and he’s the first player I would say to reach such heights where we got to see almost the full development and growth from a prospect to outright star happen while he was wearing a NYCFC kit.

Noah Kassell-Yung: There’s been talk of a transfer for so long that it feels good to finally see it happen. His inevitable departure has been hovering over the club this entire season, so now that he’s gone, the team can focus solely on the future with Talles Magno as the focal point on offense.

Andrew Leigh: Sad to see another top player who helped deliver the team’s first trophy walk out the door, and especially sad given what a setback it is for the 2022 team’s chances. Also relieved, because the rumors have swirled around Taty for so long, it’s nice to finally have some resolution. Now we can shift focus to whatever the club has planned for its Taty-less future.

Is Girona FC the right destination for him?

NKY: Girona will be one of the weaker teams in Spain next season as they have just been promoted to the division, however Europe is Europe and Taty will be playing against the juggernauts of world football in the Madrids and Barcelonas.

RNYR: Yes. At least two reasons why:

One, It’s part of the CFG umbrella of clubs, which means that the organization is definitely still invested in him, and wants to see him succeed. They clearly see him as a $15-20 million dollar player, and even if he never suits up for Manchester City, he now gets to strut his talents in what’s probably the second-best league in the world after the Premier League.

Two, Girona are comparative minnows when it comes to Spanish soccer: They spent most of their existence in the second tier, only gaining promotion to La Liga in 2017. They bounced back down to La Segunda in 2019, and just got promoted again this past season, but they’re putting together a solid little squad, and it feels like Castellanos will be the focal point of the attack. He’s going to need to get acclimated to the rhythms of Spanish soccer, but I fully expect that he’ll be a key contributor to the team this season.

AL: A newly-promoted team in La Liga that’s also owned by City Football Group seems like a great landing place for Taty. Jumping right to a team in the Premier League after selling for a sizable transfer fee would have been a move that came with intense pressure to deliver from the start. Instead he’ll start his European journey while staying under CFG’s umbrella, and theoretically won’t be as intensely in the spotlight as he might have been in England.

CD: I think Girona will be a good spot for him. It’s in La Liga but not a team like Barcelona or either of the Madrids where it would be almost impossible for him to break into the 18, let alone the Starting XI. I could definitely see him becoming the starting No 9 at Girona, and because it’s part of the City Football Group there will be incentive for him to get playing time there.

AM: Girona is certainly good for him in that playing in La Liga will help him get looks for the Argentine national team. I don’t know how well it will suit him though since Girona will probably be fighting against relegation all season since they were just promoted. They also probably won’t be controlling many games like NYCFC do.

This transaction has unfurled in slow motion: We thought it would happen in the offseason, and there have been whispers of a move starting in May, and we knew about the move to Girona for about a week before it was officially announced. What do you think of this drawn-out process?

RNYR: It’s fine. Because MLS plays on the “opposite” calendar to European teams, the offseason there is our mid-season. He’s getting better offers from better teams than if he’d left in the January window, where struggling teams normally spend silly money on short fixes. Moreover, everyone concerned has just kept their heads down and kept working, so it hasn’t been as disruptive as it could’ve been.

CD: I honestly wish it happened quicker. The lingering of the process has prevented some other developments from taking place. For example, finding out if Héber is still a 90-minute forward, or a Starting XI caliber-forward at this point? Or is someone like Talles Magno going to have to move from the wing to a central striker role? Or do we need to go out and find a striker to bring in this summer? All these questions have to happen now, as the summer window is already in progress. Not ideal.

AM: I’m fine with it since it’s allowed me to enjoy watching Taty for more games and allowed him to stay for the entire CCL run. There’s still plenty of season left, so there’s time to figure out life without Taty before the playoffs.

AL: The fact is the first rumors of bids popped up in January 2021 and he hasn’t actually left until July 2022 — it’s been an agonizing process. Doubly frustrating that David Lee’s asking price wasn’t actually met and Taty is just moving within the “parent company” so CFG can hold onto its asset longer and hope that their potential profit increases as he lights up La Liga. It also remains extremely surprising, at least to me, that Castellanos outlasted the manager who brought the best out of him.

NKY: In the long run I don’t think the long process was the right decision for the club or player. Obviously Taty has wanted to leave for some time now, so the fact that it has taken this long has surely weighed on him and for NYCFC, instead of having a full season to adjust to a Taty-less team, the most important piece is going to have to be replaced on the fly. Hopefully Lee and Cushing have been planning for this and Talles Magno or a new signing can step up and step in quickly.

Now that MLS aspires to be a selling league a transfer like this one can be seen as a feather in the cap of NYCFC: This club is so good it can ship their best player to La Liga. Do you agree with this point of view, or should a team like New York City try to keep a player like Taty?

AL: Given MLS’s (low) place in the global league pecking order, it still feels right for the league to be operating more along the lines of “foster young talent, then send it overseas.” Selfishly as a fan of course you would prefer to see the team you support hold onto its best players, but moving Taty is a sign of good faith on MLS and NYCFC’s part: If you’re a young player who really shows out in MLS and specifically for NYCFC, it can open doors to moves to bigger clubs and bigger leagues.

AM: Personally, I take way more pride in a Homegrown player being shipped out, but it is still cool to see a player who developed here move to a big club. MLS is this kind of league now, so any time a young player lights it up the clock starts to tick on his move out of the league.

RNYR: I agree with it. The fact is, unless we’re talking about three to five teams in the world (and we can argue about which teams those are, but that’s a separate discussion!), every team is a selling team. The position you want to be in is the position New York City is in: being able to sell your best player, because your roster is deep enough to do that.

NKY: MLS has become increasingly appealing to young talent looking to develop. Developing and then selling on a player like Taty proves that there’s a working structure at NYCFC, that young players can benefit from it.

CD: I think the idea of being a buyer or seller is not so black and white. For a club like NYCFC in MLS, I think they aspire to be both a buyer and a seller simultaneously. Look at all of the South American talent they’ve brought in over the last couple of years. Some of them cost some big transfer fees to acquire. Even Manchester City is selling players like Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling while they bring in more names. It’s all business.

Any club worth its weight in scouting and development has to be able to take that profit and turn into multiple players coming back into the team. So all that is to say, yes it’s good for NYCFC to sell Castellanos, but only because I believe that they will be endeavoring to find more Castellanoses with the help of this sale.

What has Taty meant to NYCFC?

RNYR: Good question! I think he’s a good player, who’s gotten better, but to me he’s not a talismanic player on the level of David Villa. If I’m forced to rank him, I’d slot him alongside Jack Harrison (who’s gone on to be a key player for Leeds) and a bit ahead of Yangel Herrera (who was Taty Castellanos before Taty came around).

NKY: I don’t know if I agree. Taty leaves as one of best players in club history, if not the best player in club history. He filled David Villa’s shoes and did what Villa couldn’t: Win the MLS Cup.

AM: Exactly. Taty meant a championship for NYCFC: He scored in all three playoff games he played in. He also meant that there was an edge to this team, his ability to get under the skin of defenders and bring that bite to the New York City attack was invaluable.

CD: In short, he meant a championship. Taty has been a champion-level player, the best striker in MLS for two years running, and a crowning achievement of what this team seeks to do in terms of guiding and developing the players on their squad. Any young player considering of making a move to MLS, can look at what Taty accomplished and realize they can achieve their goals as part of New York City FC.

AL: He’s an incredible developmental success who blossomed into a player that performed well beyond what I’d imagine were most fans’ initial expectations for him. He brought a certain edge while deployed at striker that I think NYCFC sorely lacked in their pre-Taty days. He was maybe a bit unlikable if you were an opposing defender or a fan of an opposing team, but he was our slightly unlikable striker: Full of attitude and a bit of bite, willing to run and fight for the badge for a full 90 minutes, and capable of scoring some beautiful goals. His tenure will always be remembered for the MLS Cup run and the Golden Boot season that preceded it, and I just hope whoever is tasked with replacing him can approach his level of production.

How does New York City fill this Taty-sized hole in the lineup? How will this change the season?

CD: I think it has to be Talles Magno. He’s done a great job being a playmaker and facilitator on the left wing this season, but we know he has the ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Héber is there too, but I personally think that time has passed. You put Talles Magno up front, Gabriel Pereira on the right, and Santiago Rodríguez back on the left. And of course Maxi pulling the strings as the No 10 behind all three of them. That still looks like a very dangerous attack in my opinion.

NKY: Give the keys to Talles Magno. Magno has had a breakout year so far, complementing and at times outshining Taty. Whether he’s playing on the wing or up top, Magno should be ready to step into Taty’s shoes and if he does effectively, the team should still be able to be one of the top seeds in the eastern conference come playoff time.

AL: One thing I hope Cushing does not do to fill that hole at striker is to move Talles Magno into the role, because he’s had such a great season operating on the left wing. I think that would be more disruptive than just trying to recapture the 2019 magic of playing Héber as the lone striker. If performance or injuries dictate otherwise, then of course Talles Magno is capable of playing at striker, but ultimately I think Taty’s replacement is not yet on the roster. That transfer fee should be set aside for signing a significant striker this winter post-World Cup when some other names not on the summer transfer market may be ready to move.

AM: The natural answer is that Héber reclaims his role as the starting striker and picks up some of the goals the team is losing from Taty. This also means Talles Magno and Santi Rodríguez need to pick up the pace in terms of scoring. This leaves a massive question mark over the team that obviously wasn’t there before.

RNYR: I think it’s going to be tough. Castellanos is the team’s leading scorer by far: He has 13 goals, and Héber is next with six. It’s not catastrophic, though — it opens things up and I’m confident that Cushing will figure out how to get the best out of his roster in that sense. The fact remains: Aside from Seattle, this is probably the deepest team in MLS, and at their best, they’re probably the second-best team in the league.

Any last words for Taty as he embarks on the next stage of his playing career?

AM: Thank you and good luck, hopefully we’ll all see you on a much bigger stage in a few years. You are a key part of this team’s history and your impact will always be thought of when anyone looks at the star above the badge.

AL: You will always be remembered and revered in NYCFC circles for your incredible 2021 season, and I just hope you value the love that the New York fans showed you during your time here. You’ve been through rough spells here (I’m thinking of some goal droughts and times when the team flamed out), so I hope that experience with hardship and failure ends up helping you with what will no doubt be a challenging transition to Spain.

CD: Go do what you’ve dreamed of, head to La Liga, and show yourself as one the best forwards in that league next.

RNYR: Good luck!

NKY: The NYCFC fam is rooting for you!