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2024 NYCFC Player Preview: Tayvon Gray

The 21-year-old was a key but often overlooked figure in NYCFC's defense last season.

NYCFC right-back Tayvon Gray in 2024 preseason training | Courtesy
Name: Tayvon Gray
Position: Right-Back, Central Defender
Age: 21
Key Stat: 27 – the number of interceptions made by the Bronx native last year, which tied him for team-best

Tayvon Gray started 24 games last year in what was another impressive season for New York City FC. He was a key figure in the backline, playing primarily right-back but also making a few appearances at center-back. 

The Homegrown player passed another milestone when Gray received his first international call-up for Jamaica in September, and as of right now, he is the only NYCFC player to regularly appear for his national Senior Team.

Tayvon Gray: Solid numbers in 2023 

The truth is that Gray’s 2023 season started slow, as he and Mitja Ilenič, an 18-year-old the club signed in the offseason, battled for the starting spot. Gray was in the Starting XI on opening day, but Ilenič started in seven of the following nine games. 

Gray regained the starting role, but then had to sit out a game in early June, when the defender was temporarily suspended by MLS for allegedly using language that violated the league’s policy. After further review, he was reinstated after the investigation and only missed one match. 

Gray asserted himself after returning to play that summer, making the Starting XI in the final 15 games of the season. Although he operated as a center-back in some of those games, Gray started as a right-back in 10 of the 16 final matches. 

Gray ended the season with 74 clearances, 27 interceptions, zero errors leading to an opponent’s shot and a 71.4 percent tackle succession rate. He also recovered 131 loose balls and only received four yellow cards. As for Gray’s passing, he completed 83.8 percent of his passes and provided one assist. 

After NYCFC’s 1-0 win against Chicago Fire on Decision Day, Gray revealed what led to his strong season. 

“Confidence, I think my staff, coaches, all helping me pushing me to be the best that I can,” Gray said. “Simple as that, working on my craft everyday to get better.” 

Looking ahead to this season, Gray plans to follow the same mindset to build off his success. 

“Mentality, keep getting better, never too big or old to learn,” Gray said. “So, just keep soaking in the lessons I’m learning from everyone.”

What to expect in 2024

Despite missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2015, New York quietly had one of the best defenses in the MLS last season as they conceded the second-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference. Gray played an important if often overlooked role in the back line.

Going into this season, NYCFC’s two options for right-back remain Ilenič and Gray. By the end of last year, head coach Nick Cushing preferred to use Ilenič as a substitute, and bring the more attack-minded player off the bench to help bolster the offense. That combination could continue into 2024, with both players pooling on the right. Minutes will be determined by what the conditions require, rather than deciding who is the better player.

Gray could also see more time at center-back. In some ways, he’s a natural central defender: Solidly built and positionally intelligent, he could be Cushing’s Plan B despite the club’s announcement yesterday that NYCFC signed Strahinja Tanasijević, a 26-year-old center-back from FK Spartak Subotica in Serbia. 

Gray, who Transfermarkt values at $1.7 million, signed a contract in 2022 that keeps him in New York until December 2025. The club sees a future in Gray, and will give the Jamaican international more time to grow and develop.

Gray is here to stay, and he remains one to be excited about this season and beyond.