Welcome to rock bottom. It doesn’t get much worse than losing to the worst team in the league at home and losing five out of the last six games.
That’s exactly what happened to New York City FC when they lost to DC United 2-1 at “home” at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night. One would think that NYCFC would come out with some fight and pent-up frustration and take the lead early against MLS’ punching bag. That isn’t at all what happened. Instead, DC scored first and went up 1-0 in the 24th minute. Thankfully, NYCFC showed some fight after that and Heber quickly equalized in the 27th minute.
New York City started the second half well enough but weren’t creating the big chances they needed to. Then, Nicolas Acevedo conceded a free kick to DC United that they scored off of due to some truly awful defending from NYC. Not only was Steven Birnbaum left unmarked at the back post for a free header, but Sean Johnson certainly didn’t do his best in keeping the shot out.
Interim head coach Nick Cushing finally showed some desperation and made a triple sub in the 64th minute. Unfortunately, this didn’t lead to much as the rest of the game was filled with NYCFC possession, but no shots. The first shot on target from NYCFC in the second half didn’t come until the 95th minute when Gedion Zelalem ripped a shot that forced a spectacular save out of David Ochoa to secure the win for DC.
NYCFC: 10 shots, 3 on goal, 61.1% possession, 529 passes, 82.2% accuracy, 10 fouls
DC United: 6 shots, 5 on goal, 38.9% possession, 330 passes, 75.8% accuracy, 19 fouls
Panic button pushed
Wednesday night was supposed to be the game that righted the ship for now and eased some concerns about NYCFC. Just like the game against Charlotte FC at Red Bull Arena on a Wednesday night, that did not happen. This game did the exact opposite of what it was supposed to for a reeling NYCFC squad.
The panic button is now surely pushed by the fans and hopefully by the players and everyone else involved with the club. Postgame, the players and Cushing may try to downplay the level of concern within the team after the loss, but actions speak louder than words. Cushing has been infamously frugal with his substitutions since taking over for Ronny Deila, but tonight he clearly showed that the pressure was on and this team needed a win in the worst way. Just seven minutes after conceding the go-ahead goal, Cushing made a triple sub and brought on Maxi Moralez, Thiago Andrade, and Gedion Zelalem for Heber, Gabriel Pereira, and Justin Haak.
The way the team played after these subs echoed that sentiment, too. It was constant pressure and possession from NYCFC the rest of the way. As the minutes ticked on, the desperation and urgency ratcheted up as well. Unfortunately, this led to a whole lot of nothing except more frustration.
The only good news from this is that things really can’t get that much worse. NYCFC have now slipped to fourth place after the Red Bulls beat CF Montreal 1-0 Wednesday night. They could still drop out of the top four seeds altogether and not even host a playoff game, but does that matter with the way they’ve been playing?
The urgency of the team for about the last 25 minutes of the game was somewhat nice to see, but in reality, it was too little, too late.
It shouldn’t have taken going down to the worst team in the league at home to finally see some real urgency and fight from NYCFC. That desire should have been there from the opening kickoff coming off of four losses in their last five games. Instead, NYC started the game by holding onto some useless, boring possession that led to nothing. The passing was slow and uninspiring and it took conceding the opening goal to Ola Kamara to wake NYCFC up and inspire some energy. Sure, the response after the opening goal was nice by scoring just three minutes later, but there should be higher standards for this club.
The energy and push from NYCFC after the triple sub in the 64th minute was nice to see and with that much time left, it could’ve resulted in an inspiring comeback win. However, NYC never even got close to that feeling. It took until the 95th minute for them to register a shot on target in the second half and that came from Gedion Zelalem of all people. There was only one big chance missed and that was a Tayvon Gray unmarked header in the 56th minute off a corner that went well wide.
Checked out defending
The defensive issues are still here to stay. Both DC goals were the result of horrible defending from NYCFC. First up was this display:
Ola Kamara taps it in to open up the scoring for DC United! pic.twitter.com/hxbOlktbBr— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 1, 2022
The mistakes start with Justin Haak getting beat by Chris Durkin at the start of the play. This is now a couple of games in a row where Haak hasn’t been at his best. Haak gets caught ball-watching and casually strolling along before quickly realizing that Durkin is now behind the defense and ready to put in a dangerous ball. Then, the entire back line forgets about Ola Kamara and he slips in behind to tap in the cross. Who’s Tayvon Gray marking here? Not entirely sure on that one, but Kamara would’ve been a solid choice.
Moving on to the game-winner for DC:
Set piece serendipity.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 1, 2022
D.C. up 2-1. pic.twitter.com/UH0PtUPsve
Once again, a DC United player is left completely unmarked except this time it’s on a set piece. These are unthinkable mistakes that make absolutely no sense for a team that is supposed to be fighting for a championship. It’s been months and these switch-offs by the defense have not cleared up. There’s been a game here and there where the defense has been good, but there needs to be some kind of sustained solution.
Also, Sean Johnson isn’t immune from criticism here. Yes, it was a free header inside the penalty area, but it wasn’t all that great of a header. Johnson got a hand to it, but not a strong enough one to keep it out. He barely had to dive for it, it was just slightly to his right and it’s one that Johnson saves nine times out of ten. Unfortunately, this was the one and it just seems like anything that can go wrong, will go wrong for this team right now.
DC, Ola Kamara 24’
NYCFC, Heber 27’
DC, Steven Birnbaum 57’
DC, Chris Odoi-Atsem, foul, yellow card, 22’
DC, Martín Rodriguez, time wasting, yellow card, 25’
NYCFC, Nicolas Acevedo, foul, yellow card, 56’
NYCFC, Malte Amundsen, foul, yellow card, 62’
NYCFC, Vuk Latinovich, foul, yellow card, 69’
DC, Kristian Fletcher, foul, yellow card, 90’+4
Referee: Ismir Pekmic
Assistant Referees: Brian Dunn, Brian Poeschel
Fourth Official: John Griggs
VAR Referee: Allen Chapman
Assistant VAR Referee: Peter Balciunas