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Matías Pellegrini showing early signs of rewarding NYCFC’s faith

Pellegrini put in his best NYCFC performance to date in the home opener and might now be Nick Cushing’s first choice on the left

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Hugging it out after a strong first home performance of 2023.
Photo via

Matías Pellegrini is showing early signs of rewarding the faith New York City FC showed in him when they claimed him off waivers two different times in 2022.

Pellegrini put in his best NYCFC performance to date in the home-opening win over his former club Inter Miami CF, and has become an early staple in head coach Nick Cushing’s Starting XIs.

While undoubtedly expected to see more 2023 minutes for NYCFC after logging just 70 across six total appearances after arriving late in 2022, it’s still something of a surprise to see him a week-after-week starter three matches into the season.

Pellegrini entered 2023 as a bit of an unknown. Since 2020, his playing career has been derailed by the double whammy of a COVID-shortened season and by his Miami roster spot disappearing as collateral damage for the team’s blatant violations of MLS roster rules during its first season in the league.

While it wasn’t initially clear Pellegrini would return to NYCFC after his 2022 cameo, return he has, and thus far he’s looked like one of the better “newcomers” brought in to offset the departures that have thinned out NYCFC’s roster.

He started as a makeshift central attacking midfielder against Nashville SC and Chicago Fire, never looking fully comfortable in the middle of the field yet still finding himself a part of a few big NYCFC chances. He had two missed scoring opportunities of his own on opening day in Nashville, then nearly assisted Andres Jasson in Chicago, who should have scored yet hit the woodwork following a perfect Pellegrini cross.

With Santi Rodríguez deemed ready to start and the team’s preferred player in the No 10, Pellegrini shifted out left at Yankee Stadium to become the third different player to start on that flank for NYCFC through three 2023 matches.

In the post-match press conference following the win over Miami, I asked Cushing what he was looking for from his ideal starter on the left:

“A complete performance. We know there are going to be ups and downs in the game, but we want to maintain possession, we want to be smart with the ball, we need to make good decisions, and we need an incredible work rate.”

The NYCFC manager went on to call Pellegrini one of the team’s best players on the night against Miami, and specifically praised his work rate, a compliment he repeated late this week ahead of DC United’s visit to the Bronx.

The steady praise from Cushing makes it seem as though Pellegrini impressed the most of the three players so far tried out on that left wing, and that could mean more opportunities for Mati to shine in that role. The goals and assists have still yet to arrive, but that’s plagued the entire NYCFC attack.

Pellegrini has been a net positive for NYCFC so far in 2023, and even helped the club rediscover its high-pressing ways in the home opener. Against Miami he looked like an effective two-way winger who pressed high, maintained possession and contributed positively in NYCFC’s attacking buildup, and also helped out defensively by breaking up counterattacks and not shying away from tackles and physicality.

Pellegrini appears to be an ascendant member of NYCFC, someone staking their claim to many of the minutes lost from the 2022 squad. Oddly enough, the readers who voted on our site’s Player Ratings following the win over Inter Miami were largely unimpressed by the Argentine’s work on his birthday against his ex-team.

While FotMob rated Pellegrini’s performance a 7.5, our readers only gave Mati a 5.9, an underwhelming evaluation from the crowd. Is this a case of Pellegrini flying under-the-radar and not being rated properly by fans? Or was he in actuality unimpressive and undeserving of all that praise from his manager I shared up above?

I went back and re-watched the win over Inter Miami and put together the below annotated timeline of every one of Pellegrini’s major involvements in the match. Hopefully this provides more specific examples of the things that made Pellegrini stand out in his first-ever start at Yankee Stadium.

Pellegrini’s Performance vs. Inter Miami, Annotated

  • 17’ Puts in good recovery work and recycles the ball out to the right to Mitja Ilenic in tons of space.
  • 22’ Reacted well to a rebound following a booming Keaton Parks strike, but was presumably a hair offside. At the stadium I thought it was Santi blocking Callender that caused the flag to go up, but Pellegrini also looked right on or over the proverbial line.
  • 34’ Plays effective one-touch up the left side, first with Santi then with Parks, which draws Gregore into the foul that ultimately gets turned in for the match-deciding OG.
  • 38’ Two sequences, first gets out in space on the counter after some great Talles Magno hold up play, but his early cross back to Magno in the middle gets cut out by Miami. Then Pellegrini way over-hits a cross that leads to a turnover of possession.
  • 48’ Ineffective connection on a header attempt towards goal following a long ball into the box on a set piece from Santi.
  • 49’ Cufré plays Pellegrini into lots of space on the left, but Matí’s cross attempt goes right into Drake Callender’s arms.
  • 59’ Sprints back stride for stride alongside Thiago Martins to neutralize a Miami counter sprung by Rodolfo Pizarro to Bryce Duke off a failed NYCFC set piece (that was ultimately offside). Immediately after that defensive effort, Pellegrini played a dangerous ball over the top for Talles Magno (that may also have been offside), but the Brazilian’s ball across goal was grabbed by Callender.
  • 67’ Sergii Kryvtsov launches a long ball towards Josef Martinez, and an ensuing scramble in NYCFC’s defensive end is resolved by Pellegrini taking possession and drawing a foul from Gregore.
  • 69’ The big coming-together with Gregore as both players went for a loose ball near midfield. The tackle got Pellegrini booked and left Gregore with a serious foot injury that has him ruled out for much of the remaining 2023 season. Unfortunate for the Miami star.
  • 76’ Cut out a Pizarro pass intended for Yedlin and played an accurate pass up to Magno that led to a brief spell of NYCFC possession.
  • 80’ Now over on the opposite right wing after Andres Jasson entered at left wing, Pellegrini gets open and neatly receives a pass forward from Thiago Martins, then sends Tayvon Gray forward on an overlap that ultimately leads to Braian Cufré having an open look saved by Drake Callender.
  • 88’ Played Santi clear in on goal with an inch-perfect ball to the No 10 in space between Miami’s center backs. Callender sprung off his line and made yet another crucial save to deny NYCFC a goal.
  • 90’ + 1 Puts a deft touch on a Barraza goal kick, winning possession and then almost immediately drawing a foul from Mota that ate up more time right at the end of the match.
  • 90’ + 6 Blocked Miami’s very last attempt to play a last-gasp ball into the box in search of an equalizer.