For a little over 40 minutes last night, New York City FC looked good.
That period of time started right after a careless giveaway in the fourth minute allowed Charlotte FC to score first, and ended before the second-half implosion that let midfielder Brand Bronico get his first goal of the season — then let the ageless defender Christian Fuchs bury a stoppage-time penalty shot to ice the club's second away win in their short history. If you only focus on that 40-minute window, NYCFC should be pleased with the chances they created and the pressure they applied.
But ever since 1866, soccer games have lasted a full 90 minutes, and you can't discount what happened during the other 50 minutes of last night’s game: You can’t edit out the mistakes that New York City made. When you look at the full 90 minutes you have to be worried about a team who are putting in incomplete performances, and who are finding new ways to lose games they should win.
NYCFC: 14 shots, 6 on goal, 64.6% possession, 528 passes, 84.5% accuracy, 12 fouls
Charlotte: 6 shots, 5 on goal, 35.4% possession, 289 passes, 72.7% accuracy, 16 fouls
One of the most concerning problems to surface in recent games are costly giveaways from poor passes. To be a possession team in MLS is always a gamble: This is a physical league with inconsistent refereeing, and it’s often easier to crash into opposing players and hope to win the ball than to string together a sequence of passes that create space. A possession team takes on the burden of shaping the game.
But a possession team that routinely passes the ball to the opposition when under absolutely no pressure whatsoever will literally give away a result.
That’s what happened over the weekend, when a poor pass by Alfredo Morales last Saturday handed that game to Inter Miami. While no single off-target pass in last night’s game against Charlotte was as catastrophic, there were so many head-scratching turnovers that NYCFC often found themselves rushing to recover a ball that they had no reason to lose. Virtually all of the players on the field made mistakes. It’s as if a witch’s spell has been cast that makes the team think that all the kits on the field are sky-blue.
Not to pick on Thiago Martins, but this clip from the 47th minute is a good measure of what’s going on with the team. Just follow the commentary from Joe Tolleson: “Thiago Martins, three defenders around him, lays it across into no man’s land, a giveaway.”
Charlotte’s Kerwin Vargas took the shot, Sean Johnson made the save, and the game remained 1-1 for the moment, but it’s hard to win a match when your team consistently makes unforced errors that hand the other side one advantage after another.
Wasteful in front of goal
NYCFC have always been a team that take many, many, many shots. From the days of David Villa, when New York City regularly put in 20-plus shot performances, to last year’s Golden Boot-winning season for Taty Castellanos, when the striker scored 19 goals on 132 shots (by comparison, Ola Kamara needed 64 shots for his 19 goals, and Chicharito took just 59 on his way to scoring 17), this is a club that peppers the goal with shots.
That lack of efficiency is fine when some of them go in. So what if Castellanos converted 14% of his shots while Kamara converted 30% of his? Taty won the Golden Boot and NYCFC won the MLS Cup. But that approach to scoring goals only works if some of the birdshot hit the target.
It didn’t work last night. New York City created plenty of chances that they simply didn’t convert. Héber alone could have had two or three goals, but the poacher-striker shot directly at the goalkeeper, or off-target. Honestly, it’s hard to say if that was due to bad luck or a poor performance. Bad luck is a cosmic force, while a poor performance can and should be corrected through training and focus.
More flowing football from the Boys in Blue pic.twitter.com/s7swpihg6F— New York City Football Club (@NYCFC) August 18, 2022
The rest of the attack didn’t step up. New York City’s lone goal came from Maxime Chanot, of all players, who lashed a curling shot from outside the box — a Cho-lazo. It was a beauty, and yet what does it say when New York City’s finest moment of the game comes from a veteran center-back who scores about once a year?
90 percent mental
To misquote Yogi Berra, if soccer is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical, NYCFC are in trouble. The response from the club after every one of these past three losses has been passive, a shoulder shrug on social media: You win some, you lose some.
The statements have been so slack it almost feels like a coordinated effort to lower the expectations of fans who want their title-winning club to play like champions, and not a mid-table team that just logged their first three-game skid in over two years. “We’re not going to overthink this; it’s three defeats in a very good season,” interim head coach Nick Cushing said in the postgame press conference. “We need to understand that it’s about recovery, it’s about resetting the mindset, it’s about sticking together, and it’s about understanding that we’re a good football team and not overthinking. We’ll get back on the training pitch that will make sure that we prepare well for Chicago.”
Sounds like a plan. But didn’t the team reset their mindset after losing to Inter Miami for the first time ever? Or before facing Charlotte, an expansion team that has won a single game on the road this season?
NYCFC’s next four games will be much tougher than last night’s against Charlotte, or the once against Miami over the weekend: Away to play a Chicago Fire finding their form, away at an Orlando City that knows how to get a result, “home” at Red Bull Arena against a DC United that gave LAFC plenty of trouble this week, away at a New England Revolution that found their feet after stumbling at the start of the season.
Miami and Charlotte were the easy opponents, the gimmes. These games should have padded NYCFC’s point tally and built momentum for a difficult run of games, not add to a losing streak that is challenging the faith of fans and supporters.
Charlotte, Karol Swiderski 4’
NYCFC, Maxime Chanot 28’
Charlotte, Brand Bronico 77’
Charlotte, Christian Fuchs 90’ +1 (PK)
Charlotte, Karol Swiderski, foul, yellow card, 16’
Charlotte, Quinn McNeill, foul, yellow card, 41’
Referee: Jon Freemon
Assistant Referees: Adam Garner, Matthew Nelson
Fourth Official: Pierre-Luc Lauziere
VAR Referee: Kevin Terry Jr.
Assistant VAR Referee: Eric Weisbrod