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NYCFC draw with Charlotte highlights glaring transfer needs

Problems at striker and center back were magnified by the 1-1 draw with Charlotte FC at Citi Field.


Played on the day the MLS Secondary Transfer Window opened, New York City FC’s 1-1 draw with Charlotte FC magnified two of the most glaring needs sporting director David Lee has to address this summer: Striker and center back.

NYCFC looked highly threatening and created the best chances on the night, taking 21 shots, yet their lone goal came off the foot of their left wingback, not any of the promising young attackers they threw at Charlotte’s defense. 

Talles Magno was again the man in the middle of the NYCFC attack, and the young Brazilian had a confounding and frustrating evening against the team from the Queen City. 

He was able to find space and shooting opportunities aplenty, but his four shots on target were all tame efforts that were easily saved by Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina. 

Talles Magno was replaced by Gabriel Pereira after 62 minutes as NYCFC searched for an equalizer, the eighth consecutive match in which the Brazilian Designated Player has failed to register a goal contribution. His last assist was at Orlando City on May 17th, while his last goal came in NYCFC’s last home victory, April 22nd against FC Dallas. 

NYCFC’s lack of a true goal-scoring center forward has been an obvious issue since the very first match of the 2023 season. Gabe Segal has popped up with some clutch goals but has also been in and out of Nick Cushing’s lineups and substitute rotations, and is a bit of a developmental project as he breaks into his first professional team.

Talles Magno has been a consistent presence all season, but has failed to take that leap to being a dangerous forward who can carry the NYCFC attack. His performance against Charlotte felt like his 2023 in a nutshell: Full of promise and moves into dangerous positions, but totally lacking the finishing goal-scoring touch. 

The need at striker has been talked about ad nauseam. Rumors have swirled about who might come into the team in that position, with Algerian forward Monsef Bakrar recently identified by numerous reports in the Croatian press as a player NYCFC are targeting. It was clear before the season and it’s clear now that a striker is necessary, and the performance against Charlotte only served to underscore the necessity.

Center back is perhaps not as obvious of a need as striker, but Charlotte got their goal and created some of their better chances by preying on the inexperience of Justin Haak, NYCFC’s Homegrown midfielder who is currently undergoing an on-the-job crash course in how to be a center back in MLS.

Haak looked to be in a perfect position to clear the threat that ultimately led to McKinze Gaines’s thunderous opening goal, but the Brooklynite seemed to flub his clearance, rolling the ball weakly right into a shooting lane for Gaines. Haak struggled when pushed up high and out wide in NYCFC’s flexible formation, at times beaten for pace by Charlotte attackers looking to exploit the space behind NYCFC’s high defensive line.

It’s unfair to focus too much criticism on Haak, because he’s new to the position and has actually performed admirably in recent weeks while deputizing as a CB. The issue is Haak being asked to function as a starting center back at all.

Center back has been a makeshift position all season in many of the same ways striker has been. James Sands, despite being signed with the intention of playing as a defensive midfielder, has been shifted back to central defense multiple times to fill in for Maxime Chanot and Thiago Martins. Tayvon Gray has been largely moved off right back, the position he played during NYCFC’s run to MLS Cup in 2021, and has shifted to central defense, his position during his NYCFC Academy days. Tony Alfaro has occasionally been asked to step in and has been up-and-down, looking very much like a player with lots of time spent as a backup in MLS.

When Nick Cushing was asked about incoming transfers in his pre-Charlotte press conference, he gave a revelatory and somewhat blunt answer.

Striker and center back have both seen players leave and not be replaced. Taty Castellanos and Héber being the notable strikers to leave, while the hole left by Alexander Callens as a left-footed center back remains noticeable. Haak might soon make way for Thiago Martins, who has recovered enough from his knee surgery to make the substitutes bench against Charlotte.

Even with Thiago Martins back, quality, proven center back depth is still needed. Maxime Chanot has been rock-like anchoring the central defense but is also 33 years old and might be approaching the end of his career, while James Sands wants to play in the midfield and also wants to earn himself another move back to Europe.

David Lee doesn’t have to look far to find more reminders of the needs NYCFC face this transfer window. Perhaps reinforcements are on the way, but until they arrive, there might be more frustrating nights to come like the stalemate with Charlotte at Citi Field.