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 honestly biased opinion.
For all the ups and downs in New York City FC’s recent run of form – the dramatic away wins against Dallas FC and New Jersey Red Bulls, the tense draw with CF Montréal, the aggravating losses to Columbus Crew and Inter Miami – there is a new, nagging question bouncing around the collective mind of the club’s supporters: Are NYCFC any good?
For years, the answer was a simple “yes.” The fans in the stands knew that NYCFC was the better team on the field no matter who the opponent: The question wasn’t whether New York City would play well, it was whether their attractive, attacking, possessive style of play would translate into a win. True, there were mistakes, the pass sequences with too many touches, the chances left unfinished, the junk goals that gave away a result, but the overall quality of the team was never in doubt.
That’s no longer the case. While a two-game losing streak is hardly the start of the downfall of Rome, the nature of those two defeats is troubling. The players look exhausted and disconnected. The formations feel static and predictable. Other teams have learned how to outplay NYCFC: Press tight, close off space, force mistakes. Right now, that formula is working for the opposition.
Interim head coach Nick Cushing can stop this by orchestrating a professional win tonight against a Charlotte FC that might be outperforming all expectations for an expansion team, but that has managed only one win on the road. Tonight NYCFC need to outplay a team they should outplay, and win a game they should win.
Now is not the time to make excuses. Yes, there is no Alexander Callens in the defense or Keaton Parks in the midfield. Yes, the game will be held at Red Bull Arena, an admittedly nice stadium that has never held much of a home-field advantage for NYCFC. Yes, it is the only “home” match in a six-game run that had the team traveling to Texas, Quebec, Ohio, and Florida. Yes, the game is on short rest.
While every one of those factors undoubtedly figures into the mental and physical fatigue we see in the players, the squad can’t afford for any of that to derail what should be an efficient, boring, workday win. We know that Talles Magno, Thiago, and Héber can score. We know that Santiago Rodríguez and Alfredo Morales can run the midfield. We know that Sean Johnson and Thiago Martins can keep a clean sheet. Tonight, they need to step up and do their jobs for 90 minutes plus stoppage time: They need to punch their timecards, take the field, and get to work demonstrating that they are capable of controlling the 11th-place team in the Eastern Conference.
There are only ten games left in the year, and the match tonight will set the tone for the rest of the season. This is a streaky sport, and one good result can put the club on the correct course. That happened with the heartbreaking draw against Seattle Sounders in the CONCACAF Champions League in which NYCFC only scored one goal but comprehensively outplayed their opponents; it could happen again tonight.
The fact is that NYCFC are still in a strong position with 42 points after 24 games. Last year, the cub had just 38 points at this junction — and were about to enter that six-game winless streak that threatened to keep them out of the postseason. Even the legendary 2019 team had only 41 points after 24 games — and they went on finish the season by taking 23 points out of a possible 30. This New York City team could still finish with the most points in club history.
Not that it matters. As they say in youth sports, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play. Recently, NYCFC have played less like the elite team we believe them to be than a mid-table squad missing some key players. But a part of being a fan is keeping the faith: We are ready to watch NYCFC return to form and smother Charlotte's attack, pull apart their defense, play keep-away to run out the clock, and take three points at home — or whatever you want to call that stadium in New Jersey.
The truth is, NYCFC can’t afford to log anything but a solid win as the other options are unthinkable. A loss? A lifeless draw? Even an ugly win could be unsettling.
We’ll set those thoughts aside, and instead put our minds towards the hope that New York City will come through tonight. We don’t need drama, or heroics, or a goal-of-the-week — we don’t need to jump up and throw our beers. We simply need NYCFC to put in a professional performance and get the win.