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New York City FC midterm report card

Our expert writers sit down for a Roundtable discussion and grade NYCFC’s performance halfway through the 2022 season

Strong start but needs improvement.
Photograph by Katie Cahalan, courtesy NYCFC.com

Welcome to the latest edition of the Hudson River Blue Roundtable, in which Noah Kassell-Yung, Andrew Leigh, and Anthony McKenna give midterm grades to New York City FC and comment on the club’s progress so far this season.

1. Defense and Goalkeeping

Noah Kassell-Young: Conceding only 19 goals, the third-lowest in the league is impressive considering that Chris Gloster has started at left-back, Alfredo Morales has played at center-back, and Tayvon Gray and Nicolás Acevedo have seen their time at right-back. Alexander Callens and Sean Johnson should receive most of the credit as both have put together defender and goalkeeper of the year seasons respectively. Grade: A-

Anthony McKenna: Aside from the occasional shootout, the back line is usually reliable for a solid performance with few mistakes. Johnson continues to make some miraculous saves throughout games. Callens is still a beast with Thiago Martins looking heavily improved before his recent injury. I want more attacking-wise from the wing-backs this season, but that should be fixed with Anton Tinnerholm’s return. This group did post seven straight clean sheets in all competitions so you have to give them their due. Grade: A-

Andrew Leigh: They kept clean sheets in six straight MLS matches, and statistically remain one of the league’s stingiest defenses, but it has been an up-and-down season, as new addition Thiago Martins had a bumpy adjustment period early on, and regular starters all were lost to injuries at various points. Johnson has been as steady as it gets and has made a number of key points-preserving saves. The D’s overall grade, however, is sliding downwards at this midway point of the season. They’re conceding far too many goals since the international break, and it’s concerning to see Alexander Callens struggle. Plenty of defensive talent remains in place, so I would not be surprised to see this grade bumped up by the time we reach season’s end. Grade: B

2. Midfield

AM: Keaton Parks continued to be the man that made this team run so smoothly before his injury and Alfredo Morales is pretty darn reliable. Nicolás Acevedo is where my downgrade in this group comes in. He seems to be involved in too many mistakes that eventually lead to goals. I still love Maxi Moralez and he’s still who I want as our No 10, but he is getting older and is not the outstanding player he once was. Grade: B+

NKY: NYCFC’s midfield has been consistently dominant, winning the midfield battle in almost every match. The big question mark for Nick Cushing is how to replace Keaton’s incredible output now that he’s out injured indefinitely. Grade: A

AL: The midfield looked very promising early on this season despite the departure of James Sands. Keaton picked up right where he’d left off in 2021, Maxi showed no signs of slowing down and even played in the No 6 role, and Alfredo remained as stout as ever as a destroyer and back line protector. Santíago Rodriguez has filled for Maxi as the central attacking midfielder, but he’s not the same natural playmaker and appears more dangerous when deployed out wide. No one lower on the midfield depth chart has really stepped up and impressed. Acevedo has gotten lots of minutes both in the midfield and even at right-back, but hasn’t really stood out no matter where he’s been deployed. There are concerns to be had with this group. Grade: B+

3. Attack

AL: Taty Castellanos and Talles Magno make for one heck of a one-two punch, arguably the best attacking duo in MLS. Right-wing has been a mixed bag. New addition Gabriel Pereira has shown flashes of brilliance but has also gone missing a bit too often in some of his appearances. Thiago remains an enigma, capable of lethal runs and moments of magic, and also capable of complete idiocy and ineffectiveness. The situation could change drastically if Taty heads out the door this summer, but a glimmer of hope may be reflecting off Héber’s bald head — even if Taty leaves, all hope might not be lost up front. Grade: A

AM: It’s been a mixed bag. Taty gets an A+ individually, Talles Magno continues to show the flair and skill that makes you think he’ll be shining in Europe one day, but there’s also a lot of fluff when he isn’t putting away his chances and just does endless stepovers. Santi seems to be better in Maxi’s role than as a right-wing. Overall, there are some games where this attack is clicking and looks world-class, but there are some days where it’s disconnected and looks lost with few chances created. Grade: B

NKY: NYCFC’s attack has scored six, five, and four goals twice so far this season and is third in MLS with 33 goals. Besides being shut out in three of the first four games, NYCFC’s attack has been lethal behind Taty’s continued dominance and Talles Magno’s breakout season. Grade: A+

4. Bench

AM: There isn’t much firepower coming off the bench. This team has depth in the sense that the squad can be rotated with decent replacements, but there aren’t really any positional battles going on. The Starting XI is pretty easy to pick — while that may be due to the strength of those starting, I also think that has to do with the blandness of the bench. There is some excitement in Thiago and Pereira, but neither are guaranteed to shift a game. Justin Haak has emerged in recent weeks as a solid replacement, but it’s too soon to tell. Grade: C

AL: There haven't been very many impact substitute appearances so far this season. Attacking threats like Héber, Gabriel Pereira and Thiago have all had their moments, but none have stepped up as a player who consistently comes on as a sub and drastically changes the dynamic of things. A lack of reliable bench options at fullback and center back have created out-of-position assignments for players too often this season, so this grade suffers a bit as a result. Grade: C+

NKY: The depth that NYCFC have boasted over the last couple of seasons has slightly diminished this one. That being said, attacking pieces Gabriel Pereira and Thiago Andrade have both provided sparks off the bench with three and four goals respectively. Grade: B+

5. Coach

NKY: NYCFC haven’t looked the same since Ronny Deila departed the club. The team has looked lifeless at times, especially against the Red Bulls and Philadelphia, and a historically solid defense under Deila has melted into a hot mess under Cushing. Grade: Ronny Deila A+, Nick Cushing C

AM: It feels like there should be two separate grades here, one for Ronny and one for Cushing. It has really felt like two separate seasons under these two. First off, Ronny had this team humming and looking destined for another deep run in the playoffs. Since he left for Belgium things have obviously looked completely different. Under Cushing, the team looks lethargic at times and disconnected. A lot of the critiques about the team recently have been issues that stem from Cushing. Grade: B-

AL: I guess “Incomplete” would be more generous, but I’m from the school of thought that if you stop showing up, you fail the class. Ronny Deila did a great job guiding the club and seemed to have found a formula for avoiding a significant championship hangover. Bowing out of CONCACAF Champions League in the semifinals was disappointing, but the unbeaten run immediately following that disappointment was impressive and had fans dreaming of more trophies to come. Then Deila shipped off to Belgium, and NYCFC were once again plunged into managerial purgatory. Regardless of all the talk of continuity, a leadership hole was ripped open at the top of the club right before one of the toughest stretches of fixtures on the season schedule. It’s unfair to grade Nick Cushing given his interim status and small sample of work, but overall, the coaching situation is a failure halfway through the season. Grade: F

6. Front Office

AL: Sporting director David Lee decently handled the roster changes that have taken place since last season, though it remains glaring that he’s chosen not to sign any first-team fullbacks despite losing Gudi Thórarinsson and knowing the team would be without Tinnerholm for a big chunk of the season. He held steady in his valuation of Taty, though the prolonged will-he-stay-or-will-he-go nature of the situation is a distraction that hangs over the club. The fact that the club could not make a deal to keep Ronny Deila as manager and ended up losing him midseason drags down the front office’s grade, as it seems to have knocked what looked like a promising season severely off the rails. The ongoing home stadium debacle is also a massive strike against the front office. Grade: C-

NKY: Gabriel Pereira and Thiago Martins have both played well since they arrived. Both are solid signings. The front office’s biggest mistake wasn’t bringing back Thorarinson or signing a new left-back as that position has looked thin this season. Grade: B

AM: There hasn’t been much front office activity recently, but that’s mainly where my satisfaction lies for them: Keeping Taty in New York City is a massive victory and I try to avoid picturing this team without him. Whether they’ve set the price tag too high for him or not, I don’t really care since this team needs Taty. Thiago Martins seems to be a nice signing after a rough start, in what is really the only addition to the team. My main gripe with the front office coming into this season was not bringing back Thorarinsson. Grade: B+

7. Overall

NKY: Fourth place in the east with the chance to go top with a win is excellent considering the team started in a slump and is currently in a slump. Grade: A-

AM: There are certainly things that could have gone better this season, but when you take a holistic look it’s been pretty good. NYCFC still sit at 4th in the East with a game in hand on Philly and Montreal and two games in hand on New Jersey. They also made it to the semifinals of CCL, which is no small accomplishment, and no I don’t care that they didn’t have to beat a Mexican team to get there. They didn’t crash out of the Open Cup immediately. Yes, the recent results have been terrible, but if NYC can pick up a couple of wins in the next few games they’ll be right back at the top of the East and we can hopefully look back and laugh at #CushingOut like we can with #RonnyOut. Grade: B+

AL: NYCFC did a good job navigating around the early-season issues of having an extremely short offseason, jumping right back into preseason to prep for the Champions League, and then competing simultaneously in CCL and the MLS season. Major disappointment to not at least reach the Champions League final, but the club looked poised to challenge for Supporters’ Shield while making a strong defense of their MLS Cup, but that optimism is on the wane. Ultimately, NYCFC are still right in the mix for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and theoretically in contention for the Shield, but there are some cracks that need to be filled in if the rest of the season is going to be successful. Grade: B