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2024 NYCFC Player Preview: Luis Brraza

He slipped down the depth chart at the end of 2023. Will he return to the Starting XI in 2024?

NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza will start the 2024 season on the bench | Courtesy
NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza will start the 2024 season on the bench | Courtesy
Name: Luis Barraza
Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 27
Key Stat: 68.5% – that was his save percentage in 2023, which put him at #23 for MLS keepers with 10 or more starts

Things didn’t go as planned for Luis Barraza in 2023.

The longtime backup to former New York City FC captain Sean Johnson, Barraza was the presumed opening-day starter despite the team signing Matt Freese from the Philadelphia Union in the offseason. Unlike Freese, Barraza knew how to play in the NYCFC system: He joined the team in 2019 after being selected in the MLS SuperDraft, and he logged two clean sheets in the five games he started for the club in 2021 when Johnson was unavailable. NYCFC won three of those five matches, and allowed only five goals.

True, he didn’t play a single minute for the First Team in MLS League games the following year. But he posted an impressive clean sheet against Atlas FC in the Campeones Cup, and he was the B Team goalkeeper every day in training. 

At the beginning of the 2023 season, Barraza was given the No 1 jersey. The starting job was his to lose. 

Lose it he did, although it took a while. Freese was given the start on Matchday 15, but he didn’t make a strong impression as NYCFC fell to FC Cincinnati 1-3 at Yankee Stadium. But Freese did his homework, and learned how to play in NYCFC’s possession-based system. and he assumed the starting role on Matchday 27, when NYCFC dominated a dangerous FC Montréal and won 2-0 in the Bronx, and remained the in the Starting XI for the rest of the year. 

With Freese in goal, the team experienced their best run of form all season: New York City went 4W-3D-1L in their final eight games of the season, taking 15 out of a possible 24 points. 

Give credit to the attack, which added a legit striker in Mounsef Bakrar and a dangerous winger in Julián Fernández. And to the defense, who finally had a left-footed central defender in Birk Risa. And to Freese, who logged five clean sheets in those eight games, allowing just four goals: NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing had a new starting goalkeeper.

A shaky 2023

But Barraza was on shaky ground before the ascension of Freese. He never looked completely comfortable on the field last season, when at times it felt like there was a disconnect between the goalkeeper and the rest of the defense.

That’s not entirely Barraza’s fault. The squad was a work-in-progress until late in the summer transfer window: Veteran center-back Maxime Chanotwas supposed to be eased into a supporting role, but the surprise departure of Alex Callens forced Chanot to play out of position until he left for AC Ajaccio in the summer. Add to that the addition of 18-year-old Mitja Ileničon the right and an inconsistent Braian Cufré on the left, and you have a defensive unit that was unsettled. 

Ideally, Barraza would have stepped in and filled Johnson’s shoes by providing a calm presence in goal: Johnson was a bang-average shot-stopper by the standards of the league, but his leadership gave him an aura that made him one of the better goalkeepers in MLS no matter what the numbers said. 

But rather than steady the defense, he added to their vulnerabilities. It’s a shame as the NYCFC of 2023 was in desperate need of leadership. The squad was one of the youngest in the league, and even though Barraza was just 26 last year and had only those five league starts to his name, he could have asserted himself and made the position his. 

1.20 goals per 90, 1.04 points per game

Barraza allowed just 1.20 goals per 90 minutes, which is among the best in the league. The MLS Cup-winning Columbus Crew allowed 1.35 goals per 90, while the Supporter’s Shield-winning Cincinnati allowed 1.14 per 90. 

But NYCFC only secured 1.04 points per game during the 24 league matches when Barraza was in goal, which would have worked out to a catestrophic 35 points in a 34-game season. 

Apologies for revisiting the trauma of 2023, but some of those goals were so deflating, so painful, that they undermined the 1.20 goals allowed per 90 minutes.

There was the game against the New York Red Bulls in May, when Omir Fernandez stood at the top of the box and arced the ball over the outstretched arms of the 6′ 2″ Barraza for a 1-0 win in Harrison, NJ. There was the game against Charlotte FC at Citi Field in July, when Orrin McKinze Gaines launched a shot from outside of the box that left Barraza flat-footed and ball-watching, and that earned the visitors a draw. 

Most dispiriting, there was the game against Atlanta United at the Benz in June, when NYCFC gave away the lead — twice. Injuries and suspensions forced Atlanta to field a B-Team heavy with players from Atlanta United 2, and a 1′ goal from Gabriel Periea gave fans hope that the team could secure their first away win of the season. But a 90+5′ goal from Nicolas Firmino, his first in MLS, gave the home side a result they didn’t deserve. 

Three games, two points: You don’t get to the playoffs by letting wins slip into draws, and draws into losses. 

What to expect in 2024

Which brings us to 2024, when Barraza is expected to return to the bench. 

It won’t be easy on Barraza, but he’s a professional athlete, and he knows that fighting for your position is part of the job. He’ll need to stay fit and focused, and be ready to start when the situation arises. 

Notice that’s a “when,” not an “if.” Cushing will likely give him a chance in the Leagues Cup, or in the US Open Cup should MLS decide (or be forced) to reverse their decision not to participate.

Besides, it’s not out of the question that Barraza could compete for the No 1 position again. Freese looked sharp at the end of 2023, and all indications are that he’s the starting goalkeeper on opening day, but he’s not a lock yet. He’ll need to prove himself to keep starting, and should he suffer a poor run of form, Cushing will have an experienced keeper on the bench in Barraza.