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Os brasileiros vão nos liderar

Héber, Talles Magno, Gabriel Pereira, and Thiago have more than enough attacking firepower to lead NYCFC to a second consecutive MLS title

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Thiago has something to prove.
Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy NYCFC.com

Fique tranquilo.

Tudo está bom: Os brasileiros estão aqui.

The Taty Castellanos era at New York City FC officially ended this week, and when the team take the field tomorrow to play CF Montréal they will be without their top goal-score, but what would be a crisis at any other MLS club is instead a puzzle for interim head coach Nick Cushing to work out: He already has all the pieces he needs to replace the goal production of Castellanos, he just has to figure out how they fit.

You heard it here first: Héber, Talles Magno, Gabriel Pereira, and Thiago have more than enough attacking firepower to lead NYCFC to a second consecutive MLS title, and to make a run at the Supporters’ Shield.

The fact is, we don’t yet have a full measure of the potential of the Brazilians. Taty was a magnetic player, so ruthless in attack and aggressive in defense, that he was always the focus of the Starting XI. He turned the others into sidemen and super-subs.

But what we have seen of os Bombardeiros Brasileiros do Bronx is spellbinding. The clinical finishing of Héber, the dribbling of Talles Magno, the left foot of Gabriel Pereira, the hard-running intensity of Thiago: It’s all there. Sometimes, it’s only after you take down the biggest tree that the garden begins to grow.

Héber: Efficiency in front of goal

Much is said about Héber’s six goals scored in just 478 minutes played, which works out to 1.13 goals/90 minutes — that’s fourth-best in MLS, after only Columbus Crew phenom Cucho (1.59), LA Galaxy’s Dejan Joveljić (1.29) and Atlanta United’s Dom Dwyer (1.29). By comparison, Castellanos scored .8 goals/90 minutes.

But Héber also has an absurdly high conversion rate: The striker has taken just 14 shots, which works out to a conversion rate of 43%, better than that of Joveljić (41%), Dwyer (30%), and Cucho (27%). To put it in simple terms, Héber is one of the most clinical goal-scorers in MLS.

Castellanos had a conversion rate of 16%, and that includes the five of his goals from penalties, but contrasting him with Héber is comparing apples and oranges: You could argue that Castellnaos peppered shots to soften defenses, that it was a part of his style of play. Héber is a very different kind of striker, less physical but more clinical. We’ll take it.

Talles Magno: Elite dribbler

Last month, Hudson River Blue contributor Noah Kassel Yung analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of Talles Magno. In a nutshell: Talles Magno is one of the best dribblers in MLS, and among the very best when it comes to carries into the penalty box, but his finishing and passing need some work.

A few weeks later, The Athletic posted an article that came to the same conclusion. “Whether he’s tucked inside or positioned a little wider, Magno is a top-tier ball progresser,” the Athletic said. “He’s incredibly smooth on the ball with his right foot and often helps his team advance in transition and break lines in possession.” Good to know we all agree.

Will Talles Magno become an elite scorer? The potential is certainly there. Remember, Castellanos wasn’t always so menacing in front of goal: The Taty of 2019 and 2020 could be infuriatingly wasteful, and it wasn't until the 2021 season was well underway that he blossomed into the striker we know today.

But it almost doesn’t matter. Talles Magno has eight assists so far, putting him in the company of playmakers such as Lucas Zelarayán (nine) of Columbus Crew and Sebastián Blanco (seven) of the Portland Timbers. If he continues to link up with Héber and the rest of the attack he will have a successful season; if he finesses his finishing and becomes a little more clinical in front of goal, Talles Magno could have a breakout year.

Gabriel Pereira: My left foot

Like Héber, Gabriel Pereira is one of the most efficient goal-scorers in MLS: 471 minutes, 13 shots, four goals. Per FBref, Gabriel Pereira is among the 99th percentile for goals scored per 90 minutes, percentage of shots on target, carries into the penalty area, and dribbles that lead to a goal.

Just as important, the goals he has scored have been essential to NYCFC’s position at the top of the table. Gabriel Pereira scored what would prove to be the game-winner against Toronto FC in April, put NYCFC ahead of FC Cincinnati that would later end in an ugly 4-4 draw, and scored the third of New York City's four goals in the 4-2 win over New England.

The question remains: Is he pacey left-footed right-winger a starter, or a super-sub? Gabriel Pereira has featured in 13 games since joining the club in May, but only started in three of those. The highly technical player can sometimes seem out of sync with the rest of the team, like when he lays down gorgeous crosses inside the six-yard box that catch his teammates unaware.

That comes down to chemistry, which is still developing. On the one hand, he has yet to register an assist. On the other, Gabriel Pereira now has the blonde highlights favored by other members of the club. More time on the field should help address that.

Thiago: The wild card

You can make the argument that Thiago is the most energizing player on this NYCFC squad: The hard-running attacking midfielder is fast, technical, and single-minded. The readers of HRB voted the solo run he made against DC United last year as the third-best NYCFC goal of all time, behind only David Villa’s half-field shot that beat the Philadelphia Union’s Andre Blake and the title-wining penalty kick converted by Alexander Callens.

Thiago can be this good:

He can also be a liability: Sometimes slow to defend, out of position in attack, hot-headed. The completely useless 62’ red card that Thiago earned when NYCFC played the New Jersey Red Bulls in the US Open Cup last month didn’t necessarily cost them the game – New Jersey was already up by one goal – but it guaranteed that New York City had no chance of fighting back.

The truth is, Thiago has something to prove. You could see it in Saturday’s game, when he came in for Talles Magno and looked something like the Castellanos of last season by roaming on the left and making dangerous runs into the box — he didn’t find the back of the net but you saw the desire.

You could also see it in the 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal: Thiago was the catalyst for NYCFC’s second-half rampage that coulda, shoulda been a win were it not for the goalkeeping heroics of Stefan Frei and the 29 leg cramps suffered by the Sounders squad. Thiago was the most dangerous player on the field for long stretches, so fast and physical that you could see the terror in the faces of the Sounders defense every time he was on the ball.

If Thiago harnesses that white-hot energy – and controls those red-card lapses – he could fully occupy the Taty-sized hole left in the NYCFC attack.