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NYCFC humbled by Philadelphia Union in first home loss of season

The chances were there for Santi & Co., but the team's defending and ability to match Philadelphia was not. Photo via

Returning home did not mean a return to winning for New York City FC as the club suffered a comprehensive 3-1 defeat to Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia Union at Citi Field.

This was NYCFC’s first loss at either Citi Field or Yankee Stadium since the last time they hosted Philadelphia, over in the Bronx back on March 19, 2022. It’s the first loss of any kind at Citi Field since the team’s playoff flop against Toronto FC back in 2019, snapping a stretch of seven straight games unbeaten in Queens.

NYCFC started the match brightly and got a deserved breakthrough in the 30th minute thanks to a smooth sequence of interplay between Richy Ledezma, Santiago Rodriguez, and eventual goal scorer Gabriel Pereira. Ledezma got an assist on the play and fully deserved it, as he got in a vital touch to set up Pereira right before he got hacked down by a would-have-been-a-penalty challenge from Union defender Damion Lowe.

The home side’s lead would prove to be short-lived, as NYCFC conceded to Union forward Julian Carranza twice in a span of two minutes right before halftime. Both goals were a result of NYCFC defensive breakdowns, the first a failed attempt to deal with a long pass played to Carranza, and the second seeing NYCFC caught out on a ruthless Union counterattack, unable to react and retreat well enough to cope defensively after the Union pounced on their failed corner kick routine.

Hopes for any second-half resurgence from NYCFC were quickly dashed, as Philadelphia came out of the dressing room looking the hungrier for more goals of the two teams. Carranza almost completed a rapid-fire hat trick right after the match restarted, driving a shot off the post in the 46th minute. That spared NYCFC a deeper hole, but only briefly, as the Union would get their third in the 53rd minute again thanks in large part to Julian Carranza.

This time it was Carranza drawing a penalty, as Thiago Martins dragged the striker down while jockeying for position after the Union launched another effective long pass forward. The penalty decision was reviewed by VAR in the chance that the foul occurred outside the 18-yard-box, but the call remained as given on the field, with Daniel Gazdag eventually stepping up and burying the spot kick to double the Union’s advantage.

NYCFC seemed to fade from the match after the penalty, unable to regain any of the momentum they enjoyed in the first 44 minutes before the Union’s offensive onslaught began.

Substitute Gabe Segal did look to have a compelling argument for a penalty in the 63rd minute, with Union keeper Andre Blake seeming to trip the striker while making a failed attempt for the ball. Despite much protestation from Segal and his NYCFC teammates, the play remained a non-foul, with referee Guido Gonzalez Jr. not even summoned to the monitor by his VAR for an additional look.

Decisions not going their way didn’t determine this loss, though there still were a number of head-scratching calls made by Gonzalez Jr. and the unseen VAR crew. The loss had far more to do with NYCFC’s inability to cope with the threat of Julian Carranza and the rest of the Union attack, a similar vibe to the last meeting between these two teams, the 2022 Eastern Conference final which was also a 3-1 Union victory that came after NYCFC scored first.

The Union are red hot and appear to have regained any confidence they lost due to LAFC eliminating them from the CONCACAF Champions League. Conversely, NYCFC looked physically and psychologically fragile, the embodiment of a team that’s gone five weeks since their last win and is sliding down the Eastern Conference table.

Game Stats
NYCFC: 16 shots, 7 on goal, 59.3% possession, 493 passes, 85.2% accuracy, 16 fouls
Philadelphia: 13 shots, 6 on goal, 40.7% possession, 322 passes, 75.8% accuracy, 15 fouls

Thiago Martins and a night to forget

Unfair to say that one player bears sole responsibility for this latest NYCFC loss, but, if there was one player who stood out as being in the mix for some of the night’s biggest lowlights, it was Thiago Martins. The Brazilian Designated Player misjudged the flight of the long vertical pass played toward Carranza that set up the Union’s first goal, was caught out of position and too far upfield to do anything to effectively snuff out the counter that led to the Union’s second goal, and then completed the trifecta with the clumsy challenge on Carranza that led to a yellow card, the awarding of a PK, and the Union’s third goal.

Matters were made worse when Thiago Martins was also forced to leave the match injured after that entanglement with Carranza that led to the penalty kick being awarded. There was a whole lot of struggle packed in to the 55 minutes Thiago Martins logged at Citi Field vs. the Union, though it still might not have topped another notably rough recent performance from the Brazilian defender at Citi Field.

The off night comes as a bit of a surprise, as Thiago Martins had been a bright spot in the season’s early days. The majority of his 2023 performances to date had been good ones, with the NYCFC defense looking less culpable in the team’s recent struggles than the too-often-toothless attack. That all changed on the night the Union came to town, and with Thiago Martins also now carrying what might be a painful, lingering injury, this could go down as a costly setback for NYCFC and their defensive DP.

Injuries add to the insults

The Thiago Martins injury was bad, but it wasn’t the only concerning health issue to emerge from this frustrating loss.

Before said frustrating loss could even kick off, NYCFC were immediately put at a disadvantage via injury. While it initially looked like right back Mitja Ilenic was going to make his first start in three weeks, he had to be scratched from the lineup due to an apparent injury suffered during warm-ups. That meant Tayvon Gray was forced into things from the start, an unexpected defensive adjustment that also removed one of NYCFC’s expected wide attacking threats.

That was just the start of the club’s injury woes on the night. Richy Ledezma was on the receiving end of a heavy Damion Lowe challenge in the build-up to NYCFC’s lone goal, with manager Nick Cushing saying after the match that Ledezma was removed due in some part to lingering pain from that challenge. Then of course there was the Thiago Martins leg injury, which still had him unable to walk under his own power post-match.

Cushing also revealed post-match that Talles Magno has been battling a knee injury and was only available to give 30 minutes off the bench. Add all these names to the already-absent Alfredo Morales and Matias Pellegrini, and it looks like NYCFC might have something of an injury crisis brewing, and right when they have to deal with tough home matches this coming Wednesday and Saturday.

Form matters

Those two teams are on polar opposite trajectories at the moment. The Union are unbeaten in their seven MLS regular season matches played since crashing out of CONCACAF Champions League, with their only recent loss coming on penalties in the US Open Cup. NYCFC meanwhile have gone six matches in all competitions since their last victory.

NYCFC fans may remember the 2022 squad went on a similar hot streak to the one the Union are currently riding after suffering the sting of Champions League elimination. NYCFC fans may also remember the 2022 squad suffered through that miserable stretch of one win in 10 games in between late July and the middle of September.

The highs and and lows for NYCFC have been extreme at times, stretching back to the late days of the 2021 season, when banners just like this one were also making appearances in the supporter sections. This feels like another extreme low period, though one that a very different team will be forced to find its way out of if 2023 is going to be anything close to a successful season for NYCFC.

Cushing has guided NYCFC around these kinds of negative runs of results before, but this version of NYCFC is younger, less experienced, and less hardened against the mental challenges that can pop up when team losses begin to pile up. It remains to be seen how this 2023 iteration of NYCFC will find a way to right its ship, and it remains a possibility they simply won’t, and will continue to languish near the bottom of the table.

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NYCFC supporters earn night’s only W

The crowds at Citi Field have been great for all three of NYCFC’s matches in Queens this season, with an announced attendance of 22,830 for the Union match making it another strong showing for the World’s Borough.

The arrival of the hated Union and the 10th birthday of the Third Rail also combined to give us one of the best tifos produced by NYCFC supporters across the club’s nine seasons.

It was a helpful visual reminder for coach Jim Curtin and his Union team that they still lack a particularly significant piece of jewelry, and utilizing Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather to deliver that message was a fitting choice.

The Godfather visual has to be up there with the Playbill-inspired “Jersey Boys – One Night Only” tifo unveiled for the first-ever Hudson River Derby at Yankee Stadium. Kudos to all who worked to bring it to life, and it’s a credit to the fans that they keep turning up and produce labor-intensive things like this tifo, even as the NYCFC product on the field continues to leave a lot to be desired.

NYCFC, Pereira, 30′
Philadelphia, Carranza, 45’+1′
Philadelphia, Carranza, 45’+3′
Philadelphia, Gazdag (PK), 53′

Philadelphia, Glesnes, yellow card, foul 29′
NYCFC, Gray, yellow card, foul 38′
NYCFC, Thiago Martins, yellow card, foul 53′
NYCFC, O’Toole, yellow card, foul 61′
Philadelphia, Uhre, yellow card, foul 69′
Philadelphia, Bueno, yellow card, foul 83′

Attendance: 22,830

Referee: Guido Gonzalez Jr.
Assistant Referees: Jose Da Silva, Gianni Facchini
Fourth Official: Adam Kilpatrick
VAR: Kevin Stott
Assistant VAR: Thomas Supple