Playing for the first time in 17 days, NYCFC opened the match sluggishly. Before long, New York City began creating chances in front of the Minnesota goal. NYCFC striker Mounsef Bakrar found himself alone in front of the net several times during the first half, but was unable to provide that final decisive touch.
It remained scoreless until the 53rd minute, when Minnesota’s Ján Greguš long-range strike deflected off NYCFC’s James Sands and looped past a helpless Luis Barraza in goal.
In response, NYCFC flooded the attacking third. Chances fell to New York City’s Santiago Rodriguez and Julián Fernández on multiple occasions, yet neither produced an equalizer. Ultimately, Minnesota would have the last laugh when former NYCFC striker Ishmael Tajouri-Shradi fed Mender Garcia for a 95th-minute insurance goal, putting the game to bed.
NYCFC: 19 shots, 5 on target, 63% possession, 491 passes, 87% pass accuracy, 13 fouls
Minnesota: 12 shots, 4 on target, 37% possession, 256 passes, 78% pass accuracy, 16 fouls
A worrisome trend continues
NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing has come out and said time and time again that one of the main stumbling blocks for his side is the lack of clinical finishing up top. And, once again, that same problem has cost NYCFC dearly. The Boys in Blue managed 19 total shots Sunday night, yet only five were on target — and none found the back of the net. Bakrar, the new Algerian striker brought in to alleviate this worrisome trend, was notably poor in front of goal, squandering chance after chance.
However, the blame cannot solely rest on the Algerian’s shoulders, as others in the attack, notably Rodríguez and the 19-year-old Fernández were wasteful in front of goal as well. As a whole, NYCFC missed four key chances, most notably Fernández’s open goal miss, which, admittedly, was at a tight angle, but an open goal miss nonetheless.
When all was said and done, NYCFC finished with an expected goals (xG) of 2.12, vs just 0.97 xG for Minnesota United. That effectively translates to one really bad day at the office in the forward department. Yet, this has been the case all season, Time and time again, the fans have had to endure sleek and potent attacking sequences, only for them to be foiled by the very players paid to finish them. An argument can be made for being rusty, considering the 17-day layoff, but this problem is far deeper than a mere lack of sharpness.
A lack of clinical finishing has been the undoing of NYCFC all season and has directly contributed to the club’s record of just one win in the squad’s last 16 matches. That’s an embarrassing statistic for a club that hoisted the MLS Cup Trophy just two seasons ago.
Impressive debut for Risa
Despite the attack putting on a finishing display that rivals that of a junior varsity high school match, the NYCFC defense was relatively solid throughout the match. One player in particular who shined was Cushing’s new Norwegian enforcer Birk Risa. Risa, who made both his NYCFC and MLS debut Sunday vs Minnesota, failed to put a foot wrong throughout the otherwise disappointing loss.
Calm and composed on the ball, the Norwegian showed a keen eye for a pass, effectively spreading the play to all corners of the pitch with pinpoint through-balls and lobbed passes. When pressured, Risa remained cool as well, shaking off attackers and creating space for himself to move the ball.
The 22-year-old put in a shift resemblant of a seasoned MLS veteran, seemingly unphased by the spectacle that was his debut match. The Norwegian maintained a 92% pass accuracy rating, as well as completing nine of his 11 long balls. In defense, Risa won three of his four tackles, won six of his seven duals, and completed five recoveries.
If there is any true positive for fans to take away from Sunday’s contest, it’s that Birk Risa may be the missing piece the NYCFC defense has longed for all season long.
Concerns for Cushing
NYCFC has entered the make-or-break section of the MLS Season, and every match going forward is crucial. Displays like the one put forth Sunday cannot continue or the club simply won’t make the playoffs.
The time for excuses is over.
Though the attack has shown flashes of brilliance at times, the forward unit as a whole needs to learn how to finish effectively.
With the defense strengthened through the arrival of Risa, and the midfield making strides with improved depth pieces in Andrés Perea and Maxi Moralez, the front line is the final cog that needs to turn: Something needs to be done to save the season.
The fans are growing tired, and no one can really blame them: This is not the soccer we are accustomed to watch NYCFC play. The aurora of that 2021 MLS Cup Championship squad is long gone, and in its place lies a dejected and pessimistic vibe surrounding, what is on paper, a very promising squad.
Something needs to give, and soon.
- Minnesota, Ján Greguš 53′
- Minnesota, Mender Garcia 90 + 5′
- NYCFC, James Sands, foul, yellow card, 32′
- NYCFC, Matias Pellegrini, foul, yellow card, 39′
- Minnesota, Will Trapp, foul, yellow card, 60′
- Referee: Nima Saghafi
- Assistant Referees: Ian Mckay, Ben Pilgrim
- Fourth Official: Alex Chilowicz
- VAR: Malik Badawi
- Asistant VAR: Jonathan Johnson