Let’s give credit to the creativity of a New York City FC squad that are finding new ways to lose games and give away results.
There was the August 13 game against Inter Miami, when NYCFC held the lead twice but threw away the game with costly defensive e blunders. There was the toothless 1-3 “home” loss at Red Bull Arena to expansion side Charlotte FC four days later, when NYCFC put on a masterclass in incompetence during the second half, generously gifting the game to a team that had managed only one road all season. There was the stoppage-time loss to Orlando City on August 28, when NYCFC’s decision to play for a draw and let the opposition batter the defense for the final 20 minutes didn’t exactly work according to plan. Most recently there was the 1-2 “home” loss at Red Bull Arena to DC United, the worst team in MLS.
And now this, a 3-0 shutout at Gillette Stadium despite a legitimately decent performance by a patched-together team that was creating chances and largely controlling the midfield. Taken on its own, this was an unlucky loss that was three or four touches away from taking three points. But when put in the context of NYCFC’s recent outcomes it’s a troubling result: Right now, this looks like a team that doesn't know how to win.
NYCFC: 17 shots, 7 on goal, 64.4% possession, 623 passes, 89.6% accuracy, 7 fouls
New England Revolution: 8 shots, 6 on goal, 35.5% possession, 336 passes, 75.9% accuracy, 9 fouls
Soccer 101: Shoot around the keeper, not at him
Let’s cut to the chase: While New York City didn’t look great, they didn’t look as atrocious as they have in recent games despite the terrible result. The coherent attack put pressure on the defense and forced New England goalkeeper Djordje Petrović to make seven saves. If you go by the numbers, it was the best offensive showing since NYCFC’s 0-2 road win against Chicago Fire.
But statistics don’t tell the full story. Petrović was never really troubled by NYCFC’s 17-shot barrage. True, the keeper made a number of point-blank saves, but virtually all of NYCFC’s shots were either off-target or directed straight at him — the only way the ball was going to find the back of the net was if Petrović made a blunder.
It was as if NYCFC had forgotten that the idea is to shoot around the goalkeeper, not at him.
New England remembered that key tactic, slipping in three goals past a defense that mostly held their own but that once again made key lapses. New England’s second goal of the game was scored by 17-year-old Noel Buck. His low shot from outside the box caught Sean Johnson out now position and the rest of the defense ball-watching, and if there was a moment that took the air out of the game for New York City fans it was watching the teenager celebrate the first goal of his MLS career.
Noel Buck’s goal celebration song is Shake It Off by Taylor Swift pic.twitter.com/v1g62JOv63— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) September 5, 2022
Three in the back
Before interim head coach Nick Cushing announced the Starting XI before kickoff, there was much speculation about how he would line up a defense that has been ravaged by injuries and is now missing both starting center-backs, and an attack that hasn’t gelled since the departure of Taty Castellanos in July.
Because NYCFC posts the lineup card in order of jersey number and not according to position, it’s always a bit of a guessing game about who will play where. Cushing gave backup center-back Vuk Latinovich a rare start on the right in a three-back with Maxime Chanot in the middle and Tayvon Gray on the left.
Cushing used three in the back to great effect when NYCFC defeated a tough Dallas FC on the road back in July, but that was a different three: Thiago Martins, Alfredo Morales, and Chanot kept Dallas from creating dangerous chances inside the box, frustrating their attack and keeping New York City in the game. It was a class act.
Chanot, Gray, and Latinovich simply aren’t the same caliber. Even though they played well together, and Gray is proving himself to be more productive in the center than on the wing – he's fearless in defense, effective in passing – they didn’t lock New England out of the box, and let a fairly weak offense make the most of the few chances they created.
Cushing didn’t take a gamble as much as play the cards he was dealt: Thanks to injuries, New York City have gone from have the strongest center-backs in MLS to starting reserves and plying defenders out of position. And it's about to get worse: Chanot will be suspended when NYCFC face Cincinnati on Wednesday due to yellow card accumulation.
You can’t crush hope if there's none left. New York City have taken just 10 points out of their last 10 games, and six of those were thanks to wins over New Jersey Red Bulls and Inter Miami back in July, when Castellanos was still on the roster. A run of form like this one hasn't been seen since 2015, when the newly-inaugurated team was thrillingly awful.
At this point NYCFC fans don’t expect a win, they simply want to see a team that tries. We had that in stretches on Sunday, but a squad that put together some nice attacking moments also looked slow and ponderous. There were a handful of one-touch passes, but most sequences involved two or three touches to control the ball, pick out an option, move into position. It wasn’t bad, but it was predictable.
Santiago Rodríguez was subbed off in the 71st minute but he stopped playing in the 60th, and spent those 10 minutes wandering through the midfield at a walking pace, refusing to track back on defense or generate anything in the attack. It was a shocking lack of professionalism from the 22-year-old midfielder.
Compare that to the workrate put in by 31-year-old Tommy McNamara, who found the back of the net in the 66th minute while Rodríguez couldn’t be bothered to jog back and give support.
T-Mac is relentless ™️™️™️ pic.twitter.com/fd3qtaFwmF— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) September 5, 2022
While there are positives to take from this performance, New York City didn’t lose the game because of injuries, or trades that weren’t made, or a congested schedule. They lost because of moments like this one, when a 22-year-old with aspirations of playing for the Uruguayan national team couldn’t be bothered to make a baseline effort to keep his team in the game, and a 31-year-old journeyman gave it his all. That should be more troubling than the 3-0 scoreline.
One more thing
There was one moment of pure joy last night, and that's when Samuel Owusu made his MLS debut for NYCFC. The 21-year-old center back has been one of the standout players for NYCFC II, and he deserves the call-up.
We might even see more of him when NYCFC take the field on Wednesday (possibly) without Callens, Chanot, Martins, and Morales.
New England, Jon Bell 12’
New England, Noel Buck 33’
New England, Tommy McNamara 66’
New England, Noel Buck, bad foul, yellow card, 41’
Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
Assistant Referees: Charles Morgante, Brooke Mayo
Fourth Official: Matthew Conger
VAR Referee: Drew Fischer
Assistant VAR Referee: Rene Parra