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NYCFC steal a road point on late Gabe SeGoal

Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC ended their longest road trip of the season with a draw against Orlando City SC that felt more like a win, as birthday boy Gabe Segal struck late for his first career MLS goal to earn NYCFC a valuable away point.

The club now heads into a 10-day break with a modicum of positive momentum, having snapped a streak of four straight defeats between league and US Open Cup play, while also scoring their first goal since the 57th minute of their loss in Charlotte.

For much of the night, it looked poised to be another frustrating NYCFC away defeat. Orlando sucked the wind out of the visitors’s sails by jumping out to a quick lead in the seventh minute, with forward Ercan Kara splitting NYCFC’s center backs and heading home a Gaston Gonzalez cross. NYCFC failed to create clear chances to equalize during the first half, though they did progressively grow in both confidence and in attacking threat following the early Orlando goal.

Adjustments were a necessity for NYCFC throughout, as starting left winger Matías Pellegrini lasted just nine minutes before needing to be replaced due to injury. That thrust Talles Magno back into the fray after he was dropped from the starting lineup, and the young Brazilian attacker would prove instrumental in NYCFC eventually finding an equalizer.

Instrumental, too, was Cushing’s decision to insert Segal at halftime in place of an ineffective Richy Ledezma. Segal scored NYCFC’s lone goal, but his deployment as a true No 9 also had the positive side effect of freeing Santiago Rodriguez from “striker” duty so he could instead attempt to make plays from deeper in the midfield.

Despite controlling the match from the 30th minute on, NYCFC would have to wait for the 89th minute to get their goal, as the Orlando final third remained the place where most promising NYCFC attacking moves went to die. That changed when Talles Magno skinned his defender and drove to the endline and played a perfect left-footed square pass toward an unmarked Segal, who guided in a late equalizer that felt important for player and team alike.

Game Stats
NYCFC: 14 shots, 6 on goal, 52.8% possession, 497 passes, 90.7% accuracy, 10 fouls
Orlando City: 10 shots, 4 on goal, 47.2% possession, 437 passes, 86.7% accuracy, 15 fouls

Segal finally puts someone under siege

Gabe Segal had not made much of a mark in his NYCFC appearances prior to the trip to Orlando. He showed some promise as a player who could press from the front and who could occupy the right areas a striker is supposed to be in, which was something NYCFC usually lacked when using Talles Magno or Santi Rodriguez as strikers (in name only). While those were positives, the main negative to Segal’s game appeared to be an allergy to actually shooting. Segal had mustered zero shots in his most recent start, a limp 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup, and he’d only attempted more than a single shot in one of his previous four NYCFC appearances.

After his star turn in the Orlando match, Segal said he approached his second-half sub appearance (on his birthday) with a different mindset than in his previous NYCFC appearances. “This game, I came in thinking less about scoring, and was just out there trying to play like a kid, rip some shots, and get one to go in,” said Segal of his approach in Orlando. A less thinking, more ripping style paid dividends for the Stanford University product, as Segal matched his season high with three shots and got that all-important first goal.

Nick Cushing has always been complimentary of his young striker’s work ethic and desire, but this was the first time Segal displayed his skills in front of goal. Leading up to his strike, Segal adeptly anticipated the dribble of Talles Magno and then cleverly timed his run behind Orlando defender Robin Jansson, setting himself up for an easy finish. It was no doubt a memorable milestone for Segal, and NYCFC will be hoping it’s a sign of more goals to come from the young forward.

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Signs of attacking improvement

It might be easy to view this match as another disappointment for NYCFC’s attack, as they scored just the one goal despite taking 14 shots and forcing Pedro Gallese into five saves. Yet particularly late in the first half and throughout much of the second, it looked like NYCFC had taken a clear step in the right direction.

Perhaps a second-half lift arrived in Gabe Segal, a player who was actually willing to do the job required of a natural center forward. Or perhaps Orlando went too deep into a defensive shell and let NYCFC get too comfortable in the game. No matter the cause, all of Talles Magno, Gabriel Pereira, and Santiago Rodríguez enjoyed strong matches, with Pereira a source of much of the NYCFC danger late in the first half as they pushed for an equalizer. Santi was credited with the most chances created in the match (3), while substitute Talles Magno made the big goal-scoring play come together to set up fellow substitute Segal.

It wasn’t a perfect performance, as Talles Magno and Santi both continued to hold onto the ball a bit too long when in possession in dangerous areas near the Orlando goal. There was still more good than bad, even if a road win and more than the sole goal scored would have gone further in boosting confidence in NYCFC’s young attacking group. Testing an opposing keeper and generating chances were traits too often missing from NYCFC’s performances during this long road swing. The youngsters leading the NYCFC line managed to reverse some of the negative attacking trends in the road trip’s final game, which should offer some optimism heading in to the extended break.

Bye week relief

This draw in Orlando concluded a grueling stretch of five away matches played over the course of 19 days for NYCFC, and the break looks to be coming at the right time.

James Sands, who played every minute of all five of those congested matches on the schedule, looked dead on his feet by the end of this match. Keaton Parks similarly seemed visibly spent by the end of his 88-minute shift, while the third member of NYCFC’s all-American midfield, Richy Ledezma, was sacrificed at halftime likely due to some combination of tactics and an acknowledgment of Ledezma’s own exhaustion.

All three members of that NYCFC central midfield have been asked to play lots of minutes directly following somewhat interrupted previous club seasons. Sands went months between starts at the end of his time in Scotland on loan with Rangers FC; Ledezma was injured and mostly out of the lineup at his parent club, PSV Eindhoven; Parks missed a huge chunk of NYCFC’s 2022 season due to a second surgery to address a lower leg blood clot.

Those three midfielders have been asked to shoulder a lot this season, but they’re not alone. Veteran center backs Maxime Chanot and Thiago Martins have played nearly every minute together in defense, with Thiago Martins joining Sands as a player who played every single minute of this five-match stretch away from New York City. Having 10 days between matches should help recharge what have to be some ultra-tired legs, which is a necessity given the stiff opposition that awaits NYCFC in its three home matches post-bye.

Circle time

In a rare public display, the entire NYCFC team huddled together at midfield after the full time whistle. The Apple broadcast to its credit stuck with the live feed inside Exploria Stadium and captured video of a good chunk of what looked to be a passionate team talk delivered by Thiago Martins.

This exercise in team spirit in Orlando was a far cry from the visual that emerged at the end of NYCFC’s first match on this long road trip. I’m referring to that Talles Magno middle finger raised in the direction of veteran defender Maxime Chanot after Chanot lashed out at the young Brazilian over his performance late in NYCFC’s 1-0 loss to Toronto FC.

When asked about the huddle post-match, Nick Cushing said it was another example of the role Thiago Martins plays in “educating and helping the younger guys.” While NYCFC look to remain committed to not having an officially-named Team Captain, and while James Sands keeps wearing the actual armband in games, this was still a very captain-y move from Thiago Martins. NYCFC just weathered an extremely unfriendly stretch of the 2023 MLS schedule, and likely felt a great sense of relief to claim even just this one point in Orlando. It seems wise by Thiago Martins to get into his teammates’s ears before they get some well-deserved time off, because life in MLS doesn’t get much easier for NYCFC on the other side of the bye with three rapid-fire home matches against the Philadelphia Union, FC Cincinnati, and New England Revolution.

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Orlando, Kara, 7′
NYCFC, Segal, 89′

Orlando, K. Smith, yellow card, foul 33′
Orlando, D. McGuire, yellow card, foul 67′
NYCFC, M. Chanot, yellow card, foul 71′

Attendance: 17,012

Referee: Sergii Boiko
Assistant Referees: Corey Parker, Kevin Klinger
Fourth Official: Lukasz Szpala
VAR: Jorge Gonzalez
Assistant VAR: Logan Brown