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Winless streak continues as NYCFC hang on for 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake

Luis Barraza's heroic goalkeeping made sure NYCFC left Utah with a point for the first time ever.

Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC earned their first-ever point in Utah, but the 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake also extended the NYCFC winless streak to nine matches and the goalless streak to two matches.

Luis Barraza was the biggest difference-maker on the night for NYCFC, as his four saves and consistently commanding play in goal kept RSL off the scoresheet and helped NYCFC earn a fourth road draw now at the exact midway point of the season.

The home side might feel unlucky to have walked away with no goals scored and just the one point, as RSL outshot NYCFC by 15 (20 shots for the hosts to NYCFC’s five) and created six big chances, though all six of those big chances were squandered. NYCFC, meanwhile, registered just one single solitary shot on target for the sixth time in the team’s 10 road games of 2023 as they continued to be winless away from New York City.

NYCFC were in part rescued by the heroics of their keeper Barraza, and in part bailed out by wasteful performances from RSL strikers Danny Musovski and Rubio Rubin. The duo’s performance could at least in part explain why RSL are spending millions to bring in Chicho Arango this summer, as each forward wasted a few clear scoring opportunities in a match that was at times wide open and free-flowing, and at times a case study of bunkering and parking the bus.

Attacking play from NYCFC was nearly nonexistent on the night, with NYCFC’s one shot on target coming in the first half and not actually troubling RSL keeper Zac MacMath much. RSL had the upper hand for much of the match but never found its breakthrough, with NYCFC likely to be the happier of the two teams with the result they achieved at America First Field.

While some positives emerge from a run of two straight clean sheets and points earned, there’s much work to be done if NYCFC are ever going to be goal-scoring threats again.

Game Stats
NYCFC: 5 shots, 1 on goal, 54.3% possession, 479 passes, 85.2% accuracy, 11 fouls
Real Salt Lake: 20 shots, 4 on goal, 45.7% possession, 390 passes, 81.3% accuracy, 12 fouls

Lowering the bar

The losing has become so familiar of late that sneaking out of Utah with a second consecutive 0-0 draw feels like a positive to latch onto for NYCFC. Yet it’s also not a very good result, given the deep hole NYCFC has buried itself in and given RSL’s 2023 struggles on their home field.

RSL had already lost four games at home coming in to the NYCFC match, and came in with the potential for a letdown or extra fatigue after reaching the US Open Cup semifinals in midweek. Instead RSL remained on the front foot for a lot of the match and were constantly threatening Luis Barraza and his NYCFC defender teammates.

While it might not ultimately be the worst thing to be riding a streak of two-straight 0-0 draws, these are not the kinds of results NYCFC needs if the club wants to climb the table. The style of performance also left a lot to be desired, as NYCFC were dominated at times by their opponents and rode their luck just to escape America First Field with a point.

With no goals in sight, NYCFC instead remained stuck down in 13th in the Eastern Conference, with the team’s winless run only continuing into worst-in-club-history territory. The 2023 season has been such a difficult one for NYCFC that a 0-0 draw in Utah can easily be made to feel like a positive accomplishment, even if it’s the latest in a deeply disappointing winless stretch that now dates back to April 22.

Defensive replacements get it done

Thiago Martins is facing a lengthy absence due to knee surgery, and Maxime Chanot was out for this game through yellow card accumulation (and also through playing for Luxembourg). NYCFC needed the fill-ins in the center of its defense to step up, and they largely did just that, as Tony Alfaro and Justin Haak both held their own as starters in central defense. Alfaro made a few vital clearances to preserve the NYCFC clean sheet, critically blocking a Salt Lake shot that seemed destined for the back of the net in the 20th minute.

Haak similarly proved adept at breaking up or at least temporarily disrupting RSL attacking moves on the night, making it two straight decent performances for him while mostly playing center back. Neither Alfaro nor Haak were perfect on the night but both came up big at important moments to make sure NYCFC didn’t concede and head back home with no points at all.

Depth is not one of NYCFC’s strong suits, but against RSL two of the team’s depth pieces directly contributed to earning a positive result. Given the team is not long removed from two 1-3 home defeats, being able to respond with two straight clean sheets while fielding a mostly second-string defensive group is nothing to sniff at, and could end up being two vital points earned come the end of the season.

Attack desperately needs help

NYCFC’s attacking struggles on the road get more and more glaring by the match. Talles Magno was back in the starting XI for the first time since the Hudson River Derby loss back on May 13, but he didn’t bring much of anything to the attacking table against RSL.

Santiago Rodríguez was more lively and effective than his fellow Designated Player attacker, but he too failed to really disrupt the Salt Lake defense. Gabriel Pereira had one of his quieter recent games and was actually removed in something of a head-scratching swap for Matías Pellegrini in the 73rd minute.

After the match Nick Cushing pointed to the team’s lingering season-long need for an “attacking focal point,” someone to be a target for crosses into the box and who can be relied upon to actually put shots on target and score goals. Cushing also made a point of saying post-match that “we need to improve in the final third. We’re trying to improve the squad which we hope will accelerate that.”

Talles Magno failed in what was a big chance to re-establish his value and his attacking threat, going a full 90 minutes but not providing much threat to RSL. Cushing’s only real attack-minded substitution ended up being Matías Pellegrini, who continued to be hardworking off-ball but wasteful when actually in possession, and not much of an attacking threat out wide.

The transfer window can’t come soon enough for a group of attacking players who have individual talent, but continue to miss that one central figure to revolve around and feed off of when out on the pitch.

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NYCFC, Gabriel Pereira, yellow card, foul 32′
RSL, Justen Glad, yellow card, foul 42′
NYCFC, Justin Haak, yellow card, foul 70′
NYCFC, Luis Barraza, yellow card, dissent 83′
NYCFC, Tony Alfaro, yellow card, foul 84′

Attendance: 20,301

Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Assistant Referees: Brian Dunn, Kali Smith
Fourth Official: Elvis Osmanovic
VAR: Jair Maruffo
Assistant VAR: Tyler Wyrostek