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Velocity vs momentum: Why New York City feel different in 2024

NYCFC's 2024 record is nearly identical to the one posted through the first 10 games of 2023 — but this team have a vibe.


If you go by the numbers, the 2024 edition of New York City FC are a carbon copy of the team that took the field year.

That 2023 squad had a respectable 15 points after 10 games, with 12 goals scored and 10 goals allowed. Fully 13 of those points came from home games, but they also managed to get two draws from the five games they played on the road.

This 2024 team have 14 points after 10 games, with 11 goals scored and 10 goals allowed. Once again, 13 points came from home games, but just one from the four games they played on the road.

The records are almost identical.

New York City FC Through 10 Games, 2024 vs 2023

2024 Home 6 4 1 1 13 10 5 5
Away 4 0 1 3 1 1 5 -4
Total 10 4 2 4 14 11 10 1
2023 Home 5 4 1 0 13 10 5 5
Away 5 0 2 3 2 2 6 -4
Total 10 4 3 3 15 12 11 2

If anything, this NYCFC are actually slightly off the pace set in 2023. They earned one fewer point this year despite having one more home game.

And yet the 2024 edition of New York City feel completely different. The quantity of wins might be the same, but the quality is markedly improved. Is it because of the players, the coaching, the team's mentality?

Yes, yes, and yes. More than that, it's the vibes. Read on to learn more.

A rebuilt roster

At the beginning of the 2023 season, nobody was allowed to call the year a rebuild. Never mind that "no team in MLS analytical history has lost more top talent than NYCFC" that offseason, in the words of The Outfield, or that the front office decided that playing Talles Magno out of position was a good idea. This was New York City Football Club, and New York City Football Club didn't do rebuilds.

But the proof was in the roster, which was filled with short-term contracts and marginal signings. There was winger Matías Pellegrini, who was claimed off waivers a second time (it's complicated) and signed to a one-year contract, and midfielder Richy Ledezma, who was signed to a one-year loan.

There was defender Braian Cufré, who was signed to a one-season loan less than three weeks before opening day. There was striker Gabe Segal, who was claimed off waivers after making just 12 appearances with FC Köln II. “The addition of NYCFC II to our player development pathway allows us to take advantage of these opportunities with the ability to play regular minutes in MLS NEXT Pro competition," sporting director David Lee was quoted as saying in the official announcement.

These weren't foundational players who would carry the club through the years. They were short-term solutions to long-term problems, the Ikea furniture you buy because it's good enough for now. None of these players are with the team today.

Compare their contracts to the ones that belong to the Starting XI who took the field last week in the 2-1 win over Charlotte FC. There was striker Mounsef Bakrar, signed through 2026 with an option for 2027, and winger Agustín Ojeda, signed through 2028 with an option for 2029.

The winning goal was scored by Alonso Martínez, signed through 2025. He came off the bench along with Julián Fernández, signed through 2027 with an option for 2028, and Hannes Wolf, also signed through 2027 with an option for 2028.

Major League Soccer released the roster profiles of all clubs yesterday, and it's striking how many New York City players on the Senior Roster are signed to long-term deals. The only two players with contracts that are up at the end of this season are 37-year-old legend Maxi Moralez, who is still sidelined with an injury suffered last year, and backup goalkeeper Luis Barraza.

It might have been verboten to call last year a rebuild, but the contracts of this squad tell the story.

In 2023, new players were brought in to fill a gap. In 2024, new players were brought in to build a future.

Straight from the training pitch

DC United striker Christian Benteke scored four goals in the month of April, when he played four games. He scored against Columbus Crew to help his team earn a point on the road, and again the following week in a 2-3 loss to Orlando City. He scored twice last week against Seattle Sounders, giving DC a hard-fought 2-1 win.

The only team he didn't score against in April was NYCFC.

He was limited to just two shots by New York City in their 2-0 win over DC, and zero on target. It was the first time this year that Benteke didn't manage a single shot on target. The NYCFC defense also held him to an xG of 0.2 — which was his lowest of the season.

Christian Benteke | 2024 MLS Season through May 3

Opponent G xG A S SOT
Seattle Sounders 2 1.1 0 4 2
New York City 0 0.2 0 2 0
Orlando City 1 0.6 1 5 1
Columbus Crew 1 1.2 0 3 2
CF Montréal 0 1.5 0 7 2
St. Louis City 1 1.0 0 3 2
Inter Miami CF 0 0.8 0 4 2
New England 3 1.9 0 6 3

It was easily the worst attacking performance of the season for Benteke, who currently has eight goals — just one behind Golden Boot leader Lionel Messi. And it came at the hands of a New York City defense that couldn't match the physicality of the 6' 3" striker, but that could outplay Benteke if they tag-teamed him.

Center-backs Thiago Martins and Birk Risa were heavily supported not just by defenders Mitja Ilenič and Kevin O'Toole, and defensive midfielder James Sands, but by attacking midfielders and forwards who tracked back. New York City players swarmed Benteke until the final whistle.

"That guy, he has so much quality," said Thiago Martins in the mixed zone after that game. "We defended him very, very, very well. Every time when one guy go against him, we have somebody to cover, because we know how difficult it is to defend against him. But we did a really, really, really good job. Clean sheet again."

The decision to cut off all oxygen wasn't improvised on the field, it was drilled in training by head coach Nick Cushing and his staff. Cushing's tactics won the day.

But a game plan will only go so far if you don't have players who can execute it. This rebuilt roster seems to have those players.

In March of last year, New York City beat DC by the score of 3-2. It was a messy, tense game with poor defenses. NYCFC outperformed their xG of 1.5, while DC outperformed their total xG of 0.8 — and came oh-so-close to scoring again in stoppage time and stealing a point.

The results of these two games might be the same — New York City logged a win in 2023 and 2024. But the nature of the games were entirely different. An inconsistent New York City that gave up a set-piece goal in the 90th-minute back in 2023 was on lockdown in 2024, when they silenced Benteke and the rest of the DC attack.

Velocity vs momentum

Forgive the quick physics refresher, but the difference between velocity and momentum is mass. Velocity is the speed of an object in a particular direction, while momentum is the product of velocity times mass.

While the New York City of 2023 gained some speed through their first 10 games of the season, they didn't have the mass to sustain it. That team had Segal, a striker signed to develop his game at New York City FC II, make three starts in April and finish each game with an xG of 0.0. It had Pellegrini play at the No 10, and Rodríguez play a False 9. It had the right-footed Maxine Chanot playing left center-back.

The New York City of 2024 are built differently. Goalkeeper Matt Freese, who claimed his spot in the Starting XI at the end of last year, is now among the best in the league, and was a finalist for MLS Player of the Month. (Messi won.) Rodríguez is putting in consistently excellent performances week in, and week out. O'Toole is rewarding Cushing's faith with increasingly strong games, and was instrumental in the gritty 2-1 comeback win over Charlotte last week.

There are still issues to address, such as the Bakrar Paradox — how can the striker be among the league elite in almost every meaningful category and have yet to score? But you can take the time required to fix a problem like this one when you have momentum carrying you forward.