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2023 Head Coach Preview: Nick Cushing

The NYCFC gaffer oversaw one of the worst runs of form in club history — and was the architect of some of the team’s most elegant wins ever. What will Cushing do with a rebuilt squad that’s filled with promise, and that some pundits pick to miss the playoffs?

He's all the way on the left.
Photoraph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy

Nick Cushing

Position: Head Coach
Age: 38
2022 MLS Season Record: 8 wins, 5 draws, 8 losses, 32 goals scored, 32 goals allowed
2022 MLS Cup Playoffs: 2 wins, 0 draws, 1 loss, 7 goals scored, 4 goals allowed
Key Stat: 60% win rate in tournament games, the best of any head coach in NYCFC history

What went right in 2022:

When Nick Cushing was elevated to the position of New York City FC interim head coach last June after Ronny Deila left to take over Standard Liège in Belgium, the club seemed to be in good shape. After some early-season stumbles, NYCFC were in first place in the Eastern Conference and in the running for the Supporters Shield. But when Ronny gave Cushing the keys to the car he forgot to mention that the timing belt was about to go: Midfielder Keaton Parks would be sidelined after undergoing blood clot surgery for the second time in as many years, striker Taty Castellanos would decamp for LaLiga side Girona FC, and injuries would hollow out the midfield and prevent key defenders from playing.

Even though the team went on a near-historic bad run of form, Cushing managed to grab some key victories that demonstrated his tactical acumen: There was the gritty win against a surging FC Dallas on a Texas night when the field was hotter than the surface of the sun, the first win over New Jersey at Red Bull Arena since 2017. Cushing was doing more with less. Sure, Ronny could hack through a stubborn San Jose Earthquakes at Yankee Soccer Stadium with a fully stacked squad, but Cushing was getting it done on the road with players he was forced to call up from NYCFC II.

That flexibility and creativity allowed Cushing to completely remake the shape of NYCFC and finish the year by going on a tear, first lifting the Campeones Cup and then logging five straight wins in MLS (including a delicious humiliation of New Jersey in the Bronx), before finally falling to the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Finals of the MLS Cup Playoffs. The 3-0 domination of Inter Miami FC in the First Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs is arguably the most elegant win in club history, and owes its form and flow to Cushing as much as to the players on the field.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Cushing is the winningest head coach in NYCFC history when it comes to tournament games. Not bad for heading up the team for two-thirds of a season.

NYCFC Cup Record by Head Coach

Coach Season GP W D L Win % GF GA GD
Coach Season GP W D L Win % GF GA GD
Nick Cushing 2022 5 3 0 2 60.00% 9 7 2
Ronny Deila 2020-2022 23 11 5 7 47.83% 38 32 6
Domè Torrent 2018-2019 7 3 1 3 42.86% 12 9 3
Patrick Vieira 2016-2018 7 1 0 6 14.29% 2 14 -12
Jason Kreiss 2015 1 0 1 0 0.00% 2 2 0
Total 38 15 7 16 39.47% 54 57 -3

What to improve:

Did we mention the near-historic bad run of form? NYCFC’s 2022 midsummer swoon was catastrophic, and threatened to keep the club out of the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural year. It wasn’t entirely Cushing’s fault – there were the injuries, the bad luck, the close games that could have gone either way – but it wasn’t not his fault, and you could sense that he wasn’t sure how to get the squad out of that deep, deep rut.

Every team stumbles over the course of a season, and it will be interesting to see how Cushing will handle it the next time NYCFC don’t find their footing. He’s young, a fresh-faced 38-year-old, but he’s also experienced, having served as the head coach of Manchester City Women from 2013 to 2020, and he now also has 21 MLS league games under his belt in addition to five tournament matches. Cushing should be prepared for what 2023 will bring.

One valuable learning experience was surely the 3-1 loss to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals. An injury-depleted NYCFC managed to go up against the Union in the deeply unfriendly confines of Subaru Park, but mental lapses let Philadelphia score three goals in 12 minutes and take the game. The substitutions both coaches made carried the day: Cushing’s choice of subs seemed strong in the moment but then they instantly threw away the lead, while Union head coach Jim Curtin’s subs seemed desperate but the players he put on clinched the win. It was the first time Cushing was out-coached since NYCFC went on that blistering end-of-season run. Maybe it will be the last?

What to expect in 2023:

This is easily the most challenging start to a season NYCFC have faced since their inaugural year. Every year save for the COVID-shortened 2020, the club added at least one major signing who was either significant or who quickly developed into a star: Sean Johnson and Maxime Chanot in 2016, Alexander Callens, Maxi Moralez, Alex Ring, and Anton Tinnerholm in 2017, Taty Castellanos in 2018, Keaton Parks in 2019, Talles Magno and Santiago Rodriguez in 2021.

But sporting director David Lee signed just four players total in 2022 – Thiago Martins, Kevin O’Toole, Gabriel Pereira, and Matías Pellegrini – and they all remain unproven. Thiago Martins is yet to establish himself as a force, O’Toole was a surprise starter during NYCFC’s strong run of form, Pereira could develop into the best right winger in MLS, and Pellegrini is mostly potential right now. Cushing will need to get the best out of these and other players if he is to replace the production lost by the exodus of talent this offseason.

He will also need to integrate new players Lee signed. Most are either young and inexperienced (18-year-old defender Mitja Ilenič, 21-year-old forward Gabriel Segal), or seasoned but underachieving (defender Tony Alfaro, defender Braian Cufré). There’s a lot of work to be done.

But we think Cushing can do it. This isn’t just the first preseason for the head coach, it’s the first comfortably long preseason for the club in two years, and Cushing has been able to cultivate his players over the course of several weeks spent in the sunnier climes of California and Florida. Watch the NYCFC training tapes and the squad looks relaxed, happy, and tight. They’ll need that chemistry to play the intricate, possessive, progressive style of soccer that NYCFC have always displayed but that Cushing seems to want to turn up to 11. If he can pull that off, he'll be well on his way to becoming a club legend.

2023 NYCFC Player Previews

• Tony Alfaro
• Malte Amundsen
• Luis Barraza
• Maxime Chanot
• Maximo Carrizo
• Braian Crufré
• Matt Freese
• Chris Gloster
• Tayvon Gray
• Justin Haak
• Mitja Ilenič
• Andres Jasson
• Cody Mizell
• Alfredo Morales
• Kevin O’Toole
• Samuel “Kwaku” Owusu
• Keaton Parks
• Matías Pellegrini
• Gabriel Pereira
• Gabriel Segal
• Talles Magno
• Thiago
• Thiago Martins