New York City FC made a dreary start to their 2023 MLS regular season, falling to Nashville SC 2-0 at GEODIS Park in the league’s very first game. Goals in each half, from Walker Zimmerman and Jacob Shaffelburg respectively, sunk NYCFC and helped the hosts cruise to a comfortable win.
Nick Cushing’s side looked disjointed and unfinished despite enjoying 62% of the possession on the day, with NYCFC’s group of promising young attackers —Talles Magno, Gabriel Pereira, and Thiago — producing just two shots on target. Luis Barraza made a few key saves to deny Nashville in the early stages of the match, but Zimmerman opened the scoring via set piece in the 34th minute and the home side never looked back from there.
NYCFC showed glimpses of promise early in the second half after Cushing had striker Talles Magno and left winger Thiago swap positions, but an equalizer never materialized. Nashville’s introduction of reigning MVP and Golden Boot winner Hany Mukhtar helped put the final nail in NYCFC, as in the 80th minute he pounced on an errant pass from Thiago and proceeded to dance through the NYCFC defense before setting up Shaffelburg for Nashville’s second goal.
NYCFC: 9 shots, 2 on goal, 61.9% possession, 499 passes, 85.2% accuracy, 13 fouls
Nashville: 9 shots, 4 on goal, 38.1% possession, 293 passes, 74.4% accuracy, 14 fouls
Talles Magno’s striker struggles continue
The weight of expectation is heavy on Talles Magno this season, given all the goals and assists that NYCFC lost from its 2022 roster. The team, in word and action, has continued to insist that Talles Magno can get the job done as a lone striker. The only striker NYCFC added this offseason has been Gabe Segal, who was last seen scoring one goal in 12 appearances for FC Köln’s reserve team. Against Nashville, though, Talles Magno’s performance was more of the same of how he looked while attempting the striker role after Taty Castellanos’ 2022 departure. He struggled with his hold-up play and was too sloppy in possession, unable to create anything for himself or any of his teammates. He also appeared to operate more as a “false 9” than as an out-and-out striker, which may be down to Magno’s personal preference to drop into the midfield to get on the ball and try to make things happen. Cushing’s first tactical adjustment of the day wasn’t a substitution, it was aborting the Magno-as-striker experiment for the day and asking Thiago Andrade to instead play the role—not a huge vote of confidence for Magno, who came in as the presumed no. 9 for the season ahead.
The midfield malfunctions
The day’s first surprise came with the arrival of a starting lineup that didn’t include Alfredo Morales, the presumed starter in the No 6 role. With Morales relegated to the bench due to an adductor injury, Cushing tried a double-pivot of Keaton Parks and Justin Haak, while also experimenting with winger Matías Pellegrini as a central attacking midfielder. Haak made a fine replacement for Morales, putting in one of the better shifts among the NYCFC starters. But it was a tough day for Parks and particularly for Pellegrini, who looked out of place playing centrally and never seemed to get on the same page with his teammates. Pellegrini also happened to squander NYCFC’s best chance of the day in the 48th minute, unable to get his shot on target after Thiago got behind Nashville’s defense and played him a pass directly in front of goal. The Parks-Haak-Pellegrini trio in midfield didn’t get in done against Nashville, a team not exactly known for its midfield strength coming into this match.
Barraza a lone bright spot?
If there are any positives to be found from this otherwise-forgettable loss, it has to be that Luis Barraza seemed to pass his first test as new starting NYCFC goalkeeper. He was called into action almost immediately, as Nashville opened NYCFC up on a counter in the sixth minute that forced Barraza to make a crucial save to deny Shaffelburg of an early goal. He’d make another good save on a deflected Teal Bunbury shot in the 31st minute, though was unable to keep out Walker Zimmerman’s powerful set-piece shot in the 34th minute. Barraza was under real duress a few times in the first half and held up well, so NYCFC fan concerns, at least for now, can gravitate away from the goalkeeper position.
Opening match woes continue
Losing the first MLS match of the year is nothing new for NYCFC, as it has now happened in four straight seasons, with the club’s record on “MLS is Back Day” dropping to a wholly underwhelming 2 W-2 D-5 L since inception. There’s at least precedent for this kind of opening performance, though the circumstances around the 2023 version of NYCFC are obviously very different than in years’ past. Many concerning questions about the roster remain unanswered and have in some cases been amplified by the performance in Nashville, but there’s not long to wait for another bite at the proverbial apple. NYCFC’s record all-time in its second game of the season is a much more encouraging 4 W-3 D-1 L, so if that form holds, a bounce-back performance could be on deck for next Saturday night in Chicago. If that’s to happen, it will require a lot more attacking cohesion and creativity than was on display at GEODIS Park.
Nashville, Walker Zimmerman 34’
Nashville, Jacob Shaffelburg 80’
NYCFC, Braian Cufré, foul, yellow card, 28’
Nashville, Jacob Shaffelburg, foul, yellow card, 58’
NYCFC, Talles Magno, yellow card, 62
NYCFC, Thiago Andrade, foul, yellow card, 75’
NYCFC, Maxime Chanot, foul, yellow card, 90+3’
Referee: Armando Villarreal
Assistant Referees: Cory Richardson, Brian Dunn
Fourth Official: Nima Saghafi
VAR Referee: Jair Maruffo
Assistant VAR Referee: Claudiu Badea