Skip to content

NYCFC's attacking potential begins to emerge

Win over New England offers a reminder that New York City FC has high-upside young attacking talent on its roster, with a trio of players making cases for more minutes in the 2-0 victory.

In his first MLS start, Trapito Ojeda was a lot for the Revs to handle. Photo: New York City FC.

The most effective combination of attacking players might have declared itself for New York City FC in the team's much-needed 2-0 win over the New England Revolution.

That optimal attacking lineup looks as though it should include both recently-signed young Argentine attackers Agustín Ojeda and Julián Fernández, who scored the goals and brought the right mix of new attacking elements as starters and impact substitutes, respectively.

Handing a first MLS start to Ojeda, the 19-year-old pacey winger New York City signed for a reported $5.5 million transfer fee to sign his winter, paid immediate dividends for head coach Nick Cushing.

Ojeda had been little-used by Cushing heading into this match, part of a new wave of attacking talent NYCFC recently imported that has yet to make a difference early in 2024.

His first MLS start saw him add pace, life, energy, and a bit of attacking edge to a New York City that has too many times in 2024 looked slow and belabored in its attacking play.

Vitally, Ojeda did something numerous NYCFC attackers have failed to do this season: He kept his composure when an opportunity to get a shot off presented itself and converted it with an authoritative finish.

Ojeda didn't play 90 minutes, but Julián Fernández came on in the 63rd minute and kept pace with his fellow Argentine, scoring a great goal of his own in the 93rd minute to ice the game. Fernández was effective at forcing turnovers and could have had a brace, a second straight home appearance for Fernández with a goal contribution after his trivela assist vs. Toronto FC on Matchday 4.

The two didn't play together, but it's easy to wonder how NYCFC would look with each of Ojeda and Fernández flanking a No 9, be it the currently-goal-averse Mounsef Bakrar or, eventually, Jovan Mijatović, once he returns from his undetermined-in-length visa delay over in Serbia.

Fernández wasn't the only substitute making their case in the win, as Malachi Jones, too, was a difference-maker off the bench. The 2024 SuperDraft pick came agonizingly close to scoring a first MLS goal, but put an open shot wide following a great passage of interplay between Keaton Parks and Fernández.

Ojeda, Fernández, and Jones each added something different and valuable to New York City's attack in their appearances vs. the Revs. Cushing deserves credit for giving Ojeda a start, and for adding both Jones and Fernández at the right time in the second half as the team chased a win-clinching second goal.

The win over New England also further underscored the value of the US Open Cup for players like Ojeda and Jones, youngsters looking to impress new bosses and carve out clearer roles with the New York City first team. They each got prime showcases by playing at Belson Stadium in New York City FC II's Second Round win over Red Bulls II with numerous important NYCFC decision-makers watching from the crowd.

It's just one win, and against a team, like New York City, that entered the match near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and one of the league's lowest-scoring sides. Yet the win and how it was earned offered a glimpse at what's possible for NYCFC if the right formula is found for the team's attack.

Nick Cushing has stuck with Hannes Wolf and Mounsef Bakrar despite neither having a goal or an assist to date in 2024, and has rotated through Andres Jasson, Alonso Martínez, Fernández, and Wolf as his preferred options as players on the right of his attacking line.

Bakrar does so much right and good as a center-forward, and currently looks irreplaceable, given the absence of Mijatović, who regardless of his odd visa ordeal, is also an 18-year-old who has yet to fully integrate himself with NYCFC.

There are more numerous and clearer contenders challenging for Wolf's starting spot, and the Austrian's hold might be most tenuous on a place in Cushing's usual Starting XI.

How Cushing will line his attack up next week against DC United is unclear, and as manager, he's been almost certain to change his starting lineups, at least slightly, from match-to-match.

All the players mentioned here as worthy minute-gainers are also very young and still inexperienced, the kinds of players who might experience more ups-and-downs from match to match.

With all those caveats applied, the attacking performances in the Bronx in front of an announced crowd of 20,744 still made a compelling case that each of Ojeda, Fernández, and Jones deserve larger roles, be it as starters or as impact subs. Each player drips with promise and upside that looks tantalizing on nights like this oddly wintry one in mid-April.