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NYCFC limp into Leagues Cup with 2-1 loss in Philadelphia

NYCFC now have just one win in their last 16 matches as time starts to run out on their 2023 season.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Any hope of New York City FC heading into the Leagues Cup pause on a high note evaporated in Chester, Pennsylvania, as NYCFC put together another night to forget while losing 2-1 to the Philadelphia Union.

The NYCFC loss snapped an eight-match unbeaten streak, though in the wider view, NYCFC now have picked up just one win in their last 16 matches across all competitions. They won’t play another MLS Regular Season match until August 20th and sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, four points off the final playoff position.

The Union never looked likely to drop points at Subaru Park after they opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, when a counterattack saw Quinn Sullivan tee up an unmarked José Martinez to power a volley past Luis Barraza at his near post.

NYCFC largely went toe-to-toe with their Eastern Conference rivals and stayed within striking distance for much of the match, but no equalizer arrived. Philadelphia doubled its lead in part thanks to a Luis Barraza blunder, as NYCFC’s goalkeeper came off his line looking poised to grab the ball and snuff out a Union attack.

Barraza instead whiffed on his attempt to claim possession, letting Chris Donovan poke home his first-career MLS goal in the 81st minute. It was an insurmountable deficit for NYCFC, who have not scored more than two goals since April 22nd and have only scored more than once in five of their 24 matches to date.

Andres Jasson did claw back a consolation goal in the 86th minute, with substitute Gabriel Pereira posterizing his Union defender before finding Jasson unmarked in the six-yard box. Jasson’s initial shot was saved, but the NYCFC Homegrown would not be denied on his second attempt, slotting home past Andre Blake to add some intrigue to the match’s final 10 minutes.

Pereira forced Blake to make one final acrobatic save on a shot that came together following a corner kick in the 95th minute, with the Jamaican keeper doing enough to ensure his team sent NYCFC back up the New Jersey Turnpike as losers.

That’s been the standard for NYCFC-Philadelphia matches since NYCFC’s win in the 2021 Eastern Conference Final—the Union are now riding a five-match winning streak against NYCFC which includes the 2022 Eastern Conference Final loss.

Game Stats
NYCFC: 11 Shots, 3 On Target, 55.8% Possession, 561 Passes, 88.8% Pass Success, 9 Fouls
Philadelphia: 5 Shots, 3 On Target, 44.2% Possession, 447 Passes, 82.5% Pass Success, 9 Fouls

Brazilian intrigue

What’s going on with Talles Magno? That topic dominated pre-match conversation, as the Brazilian Designated Player did not even earn a place among the substitutes for the trip to Philly.

It was said to be a “coach’s decision” to exclude Talles Magno from the proceedings at Subaru Park, but when asked about that decision post-match, NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing gave a non-answer about Talles Magno’s status.

Might NYCFC fans have seen the last of the talented-yet-mercurial 21-year-old Brazilian forward? He’s been linked with a move back to Brazil to join Palmeiras, and only made a brief late-match cameo in last week’s 1-1 draw in Columbus.

Speaking of late-match cameos, that’s all that Gabriel Pereira was asked to provide despite being NYCFC’s leading scorer, and despite NYCFC trailing from the 23rd minute on. Pereira entered in the 82nd minute and made his presence felt almost instantly, burning a Union defender with a nifty turn and finding Andres Jasson, who eventually finished off NYCFC’s only goal on the night.

Pereira was sorely missed, and it’s unclear why, exactly, he stayed glued to the bench until so late in the loss to the Union. He’d just played 87 minutes last Saturday in Columbus and did not show up as an injury concern heading into Philadelphia.

Their situations are very different, but Talles Magno and Gabriel Pereira each felt like significant absences that cost NYCFC in their latest loss in the Keystone State.

Keeper controversy?

Luis Barraza was clearly at fault for the second Philadelphia goal, unable to both communicate effectively with Tayvon Gray and to clear up a dangerous Union attack that he seemed on the cusp of nullifying. Barraza sold out and went to ground to claim the ball from the feet of Chris Donovan, yet failed to corral it and saw Donovan poke home a dagger of a second goal.

The first Philadelphia goal was not primarily a byproduct of poor play by Barraza, yet also saw the NYCFC keeper beaten at his near post by José Martinez’s powerful one-timer.

Barraza did not make the necessary plays to keep pace with his elite counterpart in goal, Philadelphia’s Andre Blake, and for one of the first times this season, made a glaring error that directly cost his team a chance to earn at least a point.

NYCFC and Nick Cushing have spent all season playing coy about their goalkeeper hierarchy, never truly anointing Barraza as the team’s out-and-out top keeper. Now that Leagues Cup is here and Barraza is fresh off one of his toughest games since becoming the assumed starter, might a change be coming?

Matt Freese has only started three games since arriving from the Union in exchange for a bunch of allocation money, with one of those starts coming in NYCFC’s one-and-done US Open Cup visit to FC Cincinnati. If Freese is the “Cup keeper,” he might be in for two straight starts when Atlast FC and Toronto FC come to town for this newfangled tournament, which could present a golden opportunity for the ex-Union man to grab hold of the starting job.

Circling the drain

Time is running out on this NYCFC season. Only 10 regular season fixtures remain, and NYCFC are four points adrift of the playoffs with the three teams directly above them in the table all maintaining a game in hand on New York City.

All the recent draws make a loss like the one suffered in Philadelphia feel extra costly. Yes there’s a silver lining in that seven of NYCFC’s final 10 matches will be played at home, but the margin for error has basically vanished.

While too early to declare the playoffs a longshot and the season over, NYCFC will need to go on another torrid late-season winning streak to have any hope of salvaging what has been a disastrous 2023 campaign, a year that rivals only 2015 for the dubious distinction of the worst season in club history.

Reinforcements have already started to arrive, with another potentially ready to be announced any day now. Leagues Cup offers a fresh shot at a trophy and Concacaf Champions Cup qualification, but it might, more importantly, serve as a testing ground for a new-look version of this NYCFC squad.

It’s possible the team’s new pieces will fit like gloves and help recapture some of the magic of the late 2021 and 2022 seasons, but one or two more results like the loss in Philadelphia might be enough to doom NYCFC to its first season of no playoffs in eight years.

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Philadelphia, José Martinez, 23′
Philadelphia, Chris Donovan, 81′
NYCFC, Andres Jasson, 86′

No cards issued.

Attendance: 19,363

Referee: Alex Chilowicz 
Assistant Referees: Matthew Nelson, Adam Wienckowski
Fourth Official: Elvis Osmanovic
VAR: Sorin Stoica 
Assistant VAR: Michael Kampmeinert