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Shaky NYCFC give away lead, draw Chicago 1-1

Despite NYCFC’s problems in midfield, attack, and defense, there were some positive takeaways from last night’s game

Gabi’s performance was a bright spot on a cold night on Lake Michigan
Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy

American capitalism is fixated on growth as a measure of success: It’s not how many units you move, it’s how many more you move compared to the last quarter. By that standard, New York City FC should be pleased with the result they earned last night against the Chicago Fire at a chilly, blustery Soldier Field. The 1-1 draw was an improvement over last week’s dispiriting 0-2 loss in Nashville. Against Chicago, NYCFC created chances, took shots, and scored their first goal of the season.

But it’s hard to be excited about a game in which New York City often looked disjointed and timid. NYCFC were out-possessed and out-passed by a Chicago that usually don’t like to keep the ball, and looked shaky for long stretches throughout the match.

New York City now have one point after two games, and while that won’t change the minds of the pundits who picked the team to miss the playoffs this year, fans of the team can take some comfort that the club rebuild might not be so painful now that James Sands returned to the Starting XI and Santiago Rodríguez came on as a late sub. So what if Sands left the game with a hamstring injury, and Santi looked out of sync with the rest of the team? We’ll choose to ignore that for now: The glass isn't two-thirds empty, it’s one-third full.

Game Stats

NYCFC: 9 shots, 3 on goal, 49.1% possession, 410 passes, 79.8% accuracy, 19 fouls
Chicago: 9 shots, 1 on goal, 50.9% possession, 422 passes, 80.3% accuracy, 15 fouls

Matí, Maxi, and Santi

You have to feel for Matías Pellegrini: Not only was the left-winger asked to play out of position for the first two games of this season, he was tasked to take on the unenviable role of acting as the team’s playmaker and filling the small but brilliant shoes of Maxi Moralez, arguably one of the best No 10s in the history of MLS, while heir-apparent Rodríguez sorted out the long-term contract that was finally signed, sealed, and delivered just this week.

It’s not fair to blame Pellegrini for the team’s poor performance last week against Nashville, and for the lack of creativity in the attacking third last night against Chicago, but the midfield has been largely invisible when he’s pulling the strings. Pellegrini made just 12 passes and had 32 touches in 73’ — by comparison, Moralez made 62 passes and 106 touches in 90’ in the masterful 3-0 win over Miami in the MLS Cup Playoffs last season. Still, we shouldn’t criticize Pellegrini as much as we should thank him for his service, and hope to see him roaming the wings soon.

Matí is no Maxi, but the question remains: Is Santi? NYCFC’s new No 10 – and newest Designated Player – rejoined the team on Friday after spending the last two months in Uruguay, and can be forgiven for looking rusty when he subbed in for Pellegrini. But he made just two accurate passes in the 17-plus minutes he played, and Chicago evened the score shortly after he took the field.

We’re not going to read too much into Rodríguez’s performance this game, but the fact is he will have to fill Maxi’s small but brilliant shoes if NYCFC are to return to their winning ways.

Héber scored two goals in two games for Seattle Sounders

Talles Magno didn’t manage to take a shot last night. Just sayin’.

Is the glass is one-third full?

Despite NYCFC’s problems in midfield, attack, and defense, there were some positive takeaways from last night’s game. Gabriel Pereira’s goal in the 39th minute was a beaut, a low, curling shot just inside the left post that caught all of the Chicago players ball-watching. We look forward to more of those, and a season in which Gabi will consistently delight NYCFC fans and annoy other teams with his ability to create a goal out of nothing.

Also, Mitja Ilenič looked sharp on the right. The 18-year-old is more a wingback than a right-back – he had 20 accurate passes and three successful dribbles, but won only one tackle and just 58% of his ground duels – but it was a strong performance for his first start of the season. The MLS learning curve is steep for European players who need to acclimate to the physicality of this league, and the young Slovenian comported himself well.

Two good performances on the night are two more than NYCFC had last week against Nashville: By the standards of week-on-week growth, the club is posting tech bubble numbers. But let’s get real: Individual play will need to improve, and team chemistry will need to progress, if New York City are to win at home this coming Saturday against an insurgent Inter Miami that just shut out the Philadelphia Union by the score of 2-0, never mind return to last year’s form.

Growth is fine and good, but the point of soccer is putting the ball in the back of the net more times than the other team.

NYCFC, Gabriel Pereira 39’
Chicago, Fabian Herbers 75’

Chicago, Mauricio Pineda, foul, yellow card, 34’
NYCFC, Matías Pellegrini, foul, yellow card, 44’
NYCFC, Andres Jasson, foul, yellow card, 58’

Attendance: 19,671

Referee: Filip Duijc
Assistant Referees: Corey Rockwell, Adam Garner
Fourth Official: Guido Gonzales Jr
VAR Referee: Geoff Gamble
Assistant VAR Referee: Jennifer Garner