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Late Drama: NYCFC drops heartbreaking home-opener

New York City created chances but scored just one goal. They only have themselves to blame for a crushing late loss.

Jovan Mijatović didn't have anything to celebrate | Mark Smith-USA TODAY Sports

"It's probably the best 45 minutes of football we've played in about 3 or 4 years," said New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing after the club's devastating loss to the Portland Timbers, and it's hard to disagree with him.

Coming off two straight losses to open the 2024 MLS season, NYCFC began its home opener in perfect style, leading after 10 minutes.

Then, a theme that was so prevalent last season came back to bite the Boys in Blue, as Cushing's side took its foot off the gas in the 2nd half. That easing of the accelerator cost NYCFC three points and has the 2021 MLS Cup Champions sitting next-to-last in the Eastern Conference.


New York City: 11 shots, 6 shots on target, 41% possession, 367 passes, 80% pass accuracy, 26 fouls 

Portland: 9 shots, 3 shots on target, 59% possession, 558 passes, 82% pass accuracy, 15 fouls

• New York City, Santiago Rodríguez, 10'
• Portland, Antony, 85'
• Portland, Evander, 90+7'

Attendance: 24,774

A familiar face steps up

Before Saturday's rainy contest, NYCFC had failed to score a goal in 2024, shut out both against Charlotte and St. Louis. The biggest question for Cushing's side was who was going to step up and get the club on the scoresheet. After just 10 minutes of play, that question was answered.

NYCFC, in front of a boisterous 24,000-person crowd, dominated the opening minutes of the match. The Timbers struggled to move the ball out of their half, as the NYCFC midfield and attack pressed them into their box. As chance after chance seemingly flew by, NYCFC finally opened the scoring, courtesy of the Uruguayan dynamo, Santi Rodríguez. Firing a right-footed strike into the bottom corner following a corner kick, the crowd in the Boogie Down Bronx was ecstatic, and rightfully so.

Given the state in which the season ended in 2023, fans expected bigger and better things in 2024. And that list started with the home opener. For a moment, it seemed that Rodriguez had ignited the flame needed to kickstart this season. However, that was not meant to be.

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Inefficiency in front of goal

With Rodriguez's strike coming in the 10th minute, fans would be forgiven for thinking that the Boys in Blue were set for an all-time showing to break their winless streak and goal drought. Yet, despite creating chance after chance, NYCFC left Yankee Stadium with only one goal to show for their efforts. And the squad really only has itself to blame.

Striker Mounsef Bakrar had a night to forget regarding his finishing. The Algerian finished the day with a 100% shot-to-shot-on-target ratio, with all five of his strikes challenging the keeper. Yet, he left the stadium with zero goals.

When all was said and done, NYCFC finished with 11 total shots, just two more than Portland's nine, yet it felt as if they had 25 given how often promising attacks would fizzle out. Whether it was overcomplicated passing movements or the inability to put any power behind a shot, NYCFC was completely limp in front of goal. Given the squad's uncanny ability to let things slip during the 2nd half of matches, two or even just one of the squandered first-half chances could've gone a long way in changing the outcome of this contest.

Three points squandered late

After 80 minutes, despite a resurgence in possession and attacks from the Timbers, it seemed that NYCFC had done enough to record the club's first three points of the season. Yet, the squad hadn't been truly tested all match. That test came in the 85th minute, as Antony equalized for the visitors, pouncing on a low-driven cross from Juan Mosquera.

Following the Timbers' equalizer, the match became desperate for NYCFC. Seemingly switching off the cruise control to spur a move forward, the Timbers were able to spring on the counter numerous times to close out the 90 minutes. And as this continued into stoppage time, the momentum swung too far in their favor, as a 25-yard Evander Ferreira wonder strike sealed NYCFC's fate.

After the game, Cushing was asked how much he felt responsible for the string of losses to open the season, and his response was adamant:

While respect must be given to a coach who is so willing to take the blame after a loss of this nature, it still doesn't dismiss the fact that it happened. Time and time again NYCFC have been bitten after easing up on their opponents while ahead, with each game an example of a lesson not being learned. As the fans' anguish from 2023 begins to reignite, with the Boys in Blue sitting in the bottom three of the MLS standings, here's to hoping that a painful loss like this is the stinging motivation the squad and coaching staff require to steady the ship.

• Portland, Zac McGraw, yellow card, foul, 19'
Portland, Christhian Paredes, yellow card, foul, 31'
NYCFC, Santi Rodriguez, yellow card, foul, 76′

• Referee: Esteban Rosano
• Assistant referees: Fernando Pina, Diego Armando Parra
• Fourth official: Lorant Varga
• VAR: Gregory Barkey