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NYCFC dominate Cincinnati, hand 1-1 draw to visitors

Thiago Martins own goal and a red card undo a dazzling performance by New York City

Real men swear sports bras.
Photograph by Tommie Battle, courtesy NYCFC.com

In many ways, it was a vintage New York City FC performance. New York City dominated the game from the opening whistle, comprehensively outplaying an FC Cincinnati that looked utterly lost without midfielder Luciano Acosta. For long passages in the first half, it felt that NYCFC were about to uncork one of their biggest wins of the year.

Instead, it was Cincinnati who were on the scoreboard first, courtesy of a Thiago Martins own goal.

Intricate movement, exquisite possession, a giveaway junk goal that lets the other team back in the game: It was an all-too-familiar storyline for fans of NYCFC. Why can’t this team be a little more clinical, a little more ruthless? While we have seen this kind of disappointing result countless times before, this one caps a 10-game slide that ranks as the fourth-worst in club history: NYCFC have taken just eight points from their last 10 matches.

To find a more miserable run of games you only need to go back to last year, when the team took seven points in 10 matches before finishing the season with three wins and a draw—and then going on to lift the MLS Cup. This isn’t last year’s team, but the squad that took the field last night displayed some of the energy and skill that’s been missing recently. While the level of play is a positive development, that and $2.75 will get you a ride on the D train.

If you want to get a win you need to get the ball in the back of the net more times than the other team does, and last night NYCFC didn’t get the job done.

Game Stats

NYCFC: 22 shots, 8 on goal, 65.3% possession, 555 passes, 83.2% accuracy, 9 fouls

FC Cincinnati: 4 shots, 1 on goal, 34.7% possession, 303 passes, 72.3% accuracy, 12 fouls

It’s how you play the game

The stats above are impressive, but they aren’t so different from those logged in Sunday's 3-0 loss to New England Revolution. Last night, NYCFC dominated with 65.3% possession; over the weekend, they had the ball 64.4% of the time. Which just goes to show you the limitations of quantifying soccer and assessing the game based on stats: While NYCFC were plodding and predictable on Sunday they were absolutely electric last night, using their passing and dribbling to make Cincinnati look like an MLS NEXT Pro side.

This was especially true during the first half, when New York City looked like they could have easily scored three or more goals. While Gabriel Pereira was moving the ball like a playmaker, slicing open the Cincinnati defense on the sideline, Maxi Moralez looked like he had shaved off a few years, dominating the midfield with his technical ability and his vision. Even Tayvon Gray seemed reborn, bombing up and down the sidelines like it was the 2021 postseason all over again. US international Matt Miazga was tasked with man-marking Talles Magno, and while the NYCFC forward didn’t find the back of the bet that was more because of his lack of finishing than being outplayed by the Cincinnati defender.

NYCFC’s domination of the field was absolute. A three-back lineup of Thiago Martins, Maxime Chanot, and Alexander Callens looked calm and professional — until they didn’t. Martins misplayed a backpass in the 22nd minute, sending the ball into an open net and giving Cincinnati a lead they didn’t deserve in any capacity: The team hadn’t managed to take a single shot up to that point.

It was deflating, and maybe inevitable, but then NYCFC were right back in it and bringing wave after attacking wave into the Cincinnati box. Pereira’s 41st-minute headed goal was cathartic, an emotional release for all of NYCFC fandom: Who didn’t want to rip off their shirt and throw it in the air?

But the play that should have broken the dam to let the goals flow freely turned out to be the only time New York City would get on the scoreboard. It was perplexing, to be honest. At times NYCFC pinged the ball around the box, turning the Cincinnati defense into practice cones, but in searching for the perfect shot nobody would take a chance. At other times a shot would be well-taken only for it to veer wide, or take a deflection, or find the woodwork.

On Sunday, NYCFC were competent but lacked passion, and found new ways to lose. Last night New York City were on fire, but found new ways not to score.

Make lemonade

Not only have New York City made the fewest transfers this year in the club’s short history, forcing interim head coach Nick Cushing has had to make the most of the injury-ravaged roster he has. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade: Cushing’s decision to play three in the back, control the midfield, and smother the Cincinnati defense was tactically astute. He set up the team to win.

Moralez, Pereira, Gray, Nicolás Acevedo, and Alexander Callens all had standout performances; Talles Magno did not. (We’re not going to get into the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of Thiago Martins.) The 20-year-old forward seems to be struggling under the pressure of being the focal point of the NYCFC attack. Last night he was the weak link in the forward line, missing opportunities that he should have put away. He might work hard for the team, but the service provided to him last night by Gray, Moralez, Pereira, and Santiago Rodríguez could have let him log a hat-trick. Instead, he remains stuck at six goals this season, one behind Pereira.

It didn’t get better in the second half, when Cushing brought on Thiago for Malte Amundsen and Héber for Rodríguez. Thiago is a puzzle, a blistering ball of energy in one game, completely disinterested the next. He brought almost nothing to match last night, taking up space on the left wing but letting Callens do most of the creating on that side. Thiago didn’t register a single shot in his 16 minutes on the field.

Héber was only marginally better. Brought on in the 69th minute, he created a couple of dangerous moments with Talles Magno, but his inability to find the back of the net during the current run of poor form is troubling. Héber has scored just once in his past nine appearances, and taken just 15 shots in 440 minutes played — that works out to one attempt every 30 minutes.

Talles Magno also has just one goal in his past nine appearances. The math is easy: If you don’t score, you can’t win.

Attendance: 14,248

Thiago Martins wasn't the only one who scored an own goal: The day before the game, NYCFC Fan Services sent out a tweet stating that “parking will not be available” for the match, which served to discourage a number of fans who drive in from Westchester County, Connecticut, and other nearby areas from attending the match.

Andrew Leigh covered the story for Hudson River Blue, and we learned the parking situation was a little more nuanced: While no dedicated parking would be set aside for NYCFC fans, they were welcome to take their chances and try to park in the Citi Field lots along with the spectators heading to the US Open.

It felt a little like a mixed message: In his pre-game press conference, Cushing called on NYCFC fans to attend the midweek game and lift their team to a much-needed win. “We love playing in front of our fans. We love Yankee Stadium, we love Citi Field,” Cushing said. “We know those places feel like home, we know that we get a really good atmosphere, we know that we almost get pushed by the supporters in those difficult moments...we know we’re in a difficult moment. We’re frustrated, we’re hungry, and we know that we need our fans. We need a really good atmosphere at Citi Field.”

Come to Citi Field, but don’t drive. As it turns out, there was no need to sound the alarm: The stadium had ample parking.

No doubt NYCFC Fan Services had the best interests of the community in mind when they asked supporters not to drive to the stadium, but their well-intentioned suggestion only served to antagonize fans, then antagonize them again, and again: Why the short notice? Why weren't spaces set aside? Why tell supporters to stay away? What do you mean the lots were empty?

The announced attendance of 14,248 was decent for a midweek game at Citi Field during this run of form, and the atmosphere inside the grounds was fairly good. But you can’t help but wonder how many didn’t make the trip because of the parking, and if those fans could have helped deliver the energy Cushing wanted from the crowd.

This is a frustrating time: For fans, for the club, for the players. Last night on the field we saw some of what makes this team so exceptional, and what made them champions last year. We also saw some of why NYCFC continues to come up short and once again let us down.

Goals:

Cincinnati, Thiago Martins (og) 22’

NYCFC, Gabriel Pereira 41’

Discipline:

NYCFC, Gabriel Pereira, excessive celebration, 44’

Cincinnati, Obinna Nwobodo, persistent infringement, yellow card, 63’

NYCFC, Thiago Martins, professional foul last man, red card, 75’

NYCFC, Nicolas Acevedo, foul, 83’

NYCFC, Maxime Chanot, foul, 90’ +3’

Attendance: 14,248

Referee: Ted Unkel

Assistant Referees: Meghan Mullen, Ryan Graves

Fourth Official: Silviu Petrescu

VAR Referee: Edvin Jurisevic

Assistant VAR Referee: Nick Uranga