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Home is where the hurt is

New York City FC need to get back to being a dominant home team if they're to improve in 2024. Collapsing to lose a first-ever home opener won't cut it.

Andres Jasson, doing what he does best, getting fouled. Photo: New York City FC.

New York City FC spent the week leading up to its home opener remaining positive about the 2024 squad while expecting better results at home, natural for a team that went goalless in two deflating road losses to open their season.

Nick Cushing said he believed he had a championship-caliber team; team president and CEO Brad Sims said so, too, telling Hudson River Blue, "We think this is a group that is going to be able to grow together, and they can compete this year and will compete this year."

The growth and potential of this 2024 version of New York City was evident during the first half of the home opener, when Santiago Rodríguez broke the team's season-long scoring drought and NYCFC seemed in command, perhaps en route to a vibe-shifting, multiple-goal victory.

Instead, the second half at a soggy, gray, cold Yankee Soccer Stadium went completely off the rails for Nick Cushing's squad.

It was a disastrous 45-plus minutes that saw New York City squander its lead, continue to waste chances, and ultimately fall to a Timbers flurry that culminated with a back-breaking, match-deciding Evander goal in the 97th minute that made NYCFC losers in their home opener for the first time in club history.

New York City's record all-time in home openers wasn't just unblemished, it mainly consisted of wins. But that's now over, with the first glaring, painful loss added to the list, sending New York City deeper into the abyss at the very bottom of the MLS table after three games played.

It's as bad of a start as possible for a New York City team trying to wash away the disappointment of 2023. There's no way NYCFC can accomplish that goal if it doesn't get back to the historically dominant home team it was from its 2015 inception through the 2022 season.

During that stretch, New York City was the top-scoring home team in all of MLS, with 280 goals scored. Their +118 home goal differential in those seasons was good for third in MLS, trailing only the Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union. 

NYCFC also ranked sixth in MLS with 1.93 points gained per home match played from 2015-2022.

The 2023 season, however, was a different story. Last year, Nick Cushing’s team nosedived in the rankings of all three of those aforementioned metrics: 13th in MLS points-per-match at home with 1.76; a mere 23 goals scored at home, which was good for a tie for 25th-most in MLS; and a pedestrian +7 home goal differential, good for a share of 19th-best in MLS.

That the first home game was a crushing late loss represents something of a worst-case scenario as far as restoring home-field dominance at Yankee Soccer Stadium or Citi Field goes in 2024.

Whatever confidence and magic that came with the home games played at either New York City baseball stadium has eroded during The Nick Cushing Era.

The fact that Cushing's record on the road as NYCFC head coach in all competitions sits at an unsightly 6 wins, 10 draws, and 20 losses makes it even more important that home-field advantage returns at some point in 2024.

The onus is even stronger on New York City to figure out how to win and score multiple goals in front of the home crowd because of how front-loaded the team's home schedule is in 2024.

Six of New York City's next eight matches will be played at home, including a stretch of five consecutive home games from April 6 through May 5. A few of those home games are against teams that finished below or quite close to 2023 NYCFC in the standings: Toronto FC, DC United, and Charlotte FC, specifically.

It's hard to call the fourth game of a 34-game campaign a "must-win." However, given how poor New York City have been away from home, and how desperate they are to return to the glory days of high-scoring home wins, that meeting next Saturday with old friend Sean Johnson and Toronto FC now looms extremely large.