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NYCFC stifled by Nashville, suffer third straight loss

New York City finished a week on the road with another goalless loss, unable to even put a shot on target against a stingy Nashville defense.

Maxi Moralez, back in the Starting XI and back pulling the strings. Photo © Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The New York City FC losing streak reached three at Geodis Park, where Nashville SC walked away 1-0 winners behind a first-half Tyler Boyd goal.

Boyd scored the match's decisive goal in the 23rd minute but really should have given his team the lead in the match's second minute, when he had a glorious chance to score into an open net vacated by goalkeeper Matt Freese, but missed the target with his shot.

That first chance set a bad tone for the visiting team, and when the opening goal for Nashville did arrive some 20 minutes later, it was a poor one to concede.

In the immediate lead-up to Boyd's winning goal, NYCFC had three different opportunities to clear the ball from their defensive end—two for Mitja Ilenič, one for Keaton Parks—yet no effective clearance arrived.

Sam Surridge was then able to loft a pass across Matt Freese's goal that Boyd got to first ahead of Kevin O'Toole, with the Nashville winger heading his shot off Freese's hands and into the back of the net, all the scoring the Tennessee squad would need.

That's because New York City put zero shots on target despite 15 shot attempts across the 90 minutes. Nashville, a team that relies on a smothering defense led by former MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, blocked ten NYCFC shots and never let the visitors back into the game after jumping ahead.

This latest loss came on the heels of NYCFC's trip across the country to face LA Galaxy, so it was a goalless and point-less week of travel for New York City.

The last time NYCFC put the ball in the back of the net was in the 86th minute of the home loss to Columbus Crew (which, maybe, should have been a draw?), and they've now slipped down to 6th place in the Eastern Conference table after being up in 3rd during the recent international break.


New York City: 15 shots, 0 shots on target, 54.4% possession, 533 passes, 89.7% pass accuracy, 10 fouls, 2 saves

Nashville: 8 shots, 3 shots on target, 45.6% possession, 378 passes, 85.2% pass accuracy, 8 fouls, 0 saves

• Nashville, Tyler Boyd, 23'

Attendance: 29,663

Bad omens

This game took on a foreboding feel from the very start for New York City. That initial Nashville scoring chance in the second minute featured many things going wrong. The New York City backline was split by a precise Hany Mukhtar pass, caught too far upfield and easily beaten by Tyler Boyd's run.

Matt Freese, reliable and effective this season to the point where he's being mentioned as one of the top current MLS goalkeepers, gambled and attempted to tackle Boyd far outside his 18-yard-box, but mistimed his attempt, letting Boyd dribble toward an empty net.

That Boyd blasted his shot over the top of the goal was only a reprieve. When Boyd got his second chance, he didn't miss, but he and his Nashville teammates also faced too little resistance while marching upfield toward the NYCFC goal.

Once Nashville took its lead, New York City could not break them down, as the hosts hunkered down and relied on their ability to disrupt plays, block shots, and generally suck the life out of a game.

Maxi and the dual No 10s

Maxi Moralez made his first start for NYCFC since September 2, 2023, the day he ruptured his ACL at Yankee Stadium.

Interestingly, Nick Cushing chose to slot Maxi into his Starting XI alongside Santiago Rodríguez, who was ostensibly meant to function as the team's right-winger in Nashville, with Agustín Ojeda operating on the left of the attack.

That South American triumvirate had a few positive moments, but the new-look setup did not help bring the NYCFC attack back to life. Maxi and Santi were jointly running the show, with the two midfielders leading New York City in pass attempts (67 passes for Maxi, 69 for Santi) and creating the most chances on the team.

Rodríguez was credited with six key passes, while Moralez recorded three. A precise Santi free kick delivery shortly before halftime resulted in NYCFC's clearest chance to equalize, but Keaton Parks's attempted glancing volley was off target.

After halftime, Ojeda got picked out nicely by a Mitja Ilenič cross into the box in the 46th minute, but his shot became one of the 10 blocks the Nashville defense recorded on the night.

Those two chances for Parks and Ojeda weren't the easiest to finish by any means, yet they were the best opportunities NYCFC could muster in another lackluster attacking showing away from home.

The usage of both Maxi and Santi doubled New York City's creativity in the central midfield, but the players seemed to want to occupy many of the same spaces. While Santi was theoretically lined up on the right, the NYCFC passing map from the Nashville game paints a narrow, bunched-up picture of this new-look New York City midfield, one that was never able to get the best of Walker Zimmerman & Co.

Pass map for New York City, courtesy of Opta.

Striker struggles intensify (again)

While that midfield attacking trio tried to make things happen, New York City was once again let down by its options at striker.

Mounsef Bakrar has started two straight matches and has provided little to no goal threat, against either LA Galaxy or Nashville. Bakrar was once again only lightly involved in the proceedings at Geodis Park.

He did not put a shot on target in either of his two starts this week, with Bakrar last testing an MLS goalkeeper with an accurate shot during New York City's win over New England at Gillette Stadium on May 25.

Bakrar's involvement in the NYCFC offense seems to be declining even as he returns to a starter's role. Over the last 365 days, the Algerian forward has logged 27.63 touches per 90 minutes, which is in the 28th percentile among forwards—but he had just 19 touches of the ball in Nashville after being credited with 15 in California on Wednesday.

Is it time to pause the Mounsef Experiment?
The New York City striker finished the night with zero goals — and zero shots on target.

Nick Cushing tried to roll the dice on 18-year-old Jovan Mijatović, bringing him in while searching for an attacking spark in the 59th minute. The teenager didn't improve the fortunes of the New York City attack, and really, Mijatović has been a non-factor for NYCFC in 2024, whether he's been used as a substitute or starter.

Alonso Martínez, the team's joint-leading goalscorer with six goals, was an unused substitute in Nashville after he logged just 24 minutes as a sub in Los Angeles. Martínez is a wide player still in his earliest days functioning as a No 9 in MLS, and it doesn't seem like his hat trick against San Jose was enough to convince Cushing he's the man for the job of "New York City FC striker."

Cushing and NYCFC have been trying to replace Taty Castellanos for nearly two full years and have tried a variety of players (including the currently-surrounded-in-controversy Talles Magno) and setups to make it work, but the search continues for a consistent answer up top.

• New York City, Santiago Rodríguez, yellow card, foul 26'
• New York City, Tayvon Gray, yellow card, foul 86'

• Referee: Victor Rivas
• Assistant referees: Andrew Bigelow and Jeffrey Swartzel
• Fourth official: Alejo Colume
• VAR: Jorge Gonzalez
• Assistant VAR: Katherine McCormick
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