New York City FC’s attack finally clicked into place as they earned a commanding 3-1 win over FC Dallas at Citi Field, with Santiago Rodríguez notching two goals in his first start as the team’s nominal striker.
Rodríguez enjoyed his most productive match of the season playing in a relatively new position. It was not the first time Santi has been used as a center forward, but the win over Dallas was his first start as an out-and-out “False 9.”
It was a tactical gamble from Nick Cushing to drop Gabe Segal, the more traditional striker who’d started three straight matches, in favor of a seemingly striker-free setup with Santi pushed furthest forward. Cushing’s gamble paid dividends, with all three NYCFC attacking players – Rodríguez, Talles Magno, and Gabriel Pereira – thriving in the new setup.
Pereira appeared to open the scoring in the 16th minute, but his emphatic left-footed finish was disallowed by VAR on an extremely tight offside decision. Dallas actually had the next best chance to open the scoring, but Luis Barraza came up with a great reaction save to deny Facundo Quignón from close range to keep things scoreless. Rodríguez would eventually find the opener for NYCFC shortly before halftime, converting in the 44th minute after a miscue in possession by Dallas striker Jesús Jiménez handed him the ball in a dangerous area. Santi completed his brace with a cool finish in the 50th minute, tapping in a great ball delivered across Dallas’s six-yard box by Gabriel Pereira.
That assist on Santi’s second only tells part of the story of Gabriel Pereira’s night. The young Brazilian caused the Dallas defense problems for all of his 78 minutes of action. He had the aforementioned early goal disallowed, assisted Santi’s second, then had Dallas’s defense on strings as he weaved his way toward goal, having a shot saved that was pushed into the path of Talles Magno, who cooly converted to make it 3-0 NYCFC in minute 55.
Dallas grabbed a consolation goal late thanks to another disappointing defensive breakdown on a set piece by NYCFC, but it was just that–consolation. As pointed out in Derian Trahan’s “Instant Reaction” piece published in these pages following the victory, NYCFC could say they were unlucky to not score more than their three goals. Once NYCFC solved the press Dallas threw at them, the home team’s attackers found lots of space to operate, and proved to be too much for the visitors from Texas to handle.
NYCFC: 21 shots, 6 on goal, 55.1% possession, 508 passes, 87.6% accuracy, 9 fouls
Dallas: 16 shots, 8 on goal, 44.9% possession, 407 passes, 81.8% accuracy, 15 fouls
Striker situation solved?
The MLS “Primary Transfer Window” closes at midnight tonight, and there does not appear to be a new striker signing incoming for NYCFC. Talles Magno, the now-departed Thiago Andrade, and Gabe Segal all tried to fill the No 9 hole, and against Dallas it was Rodríguez’s turn. Santi looked the most up to the task, and his instant adaptation to life as a False 9 could help stabilize the unsettled striker situation NYCFC have dealt with all season.
Talles Magno hasn’t been asked to go back into that No 9 role since Segal stepped into the lineup away to New England, and while Segal had his moments, he looked like something of an unfinished product. Santi up top seemed to mesh nicely with Talles Magno and Pereira on the left and right flanks, as all three players were directly involved in the night’s goals.
Having Santi further up also allows NYCFC to maintain the Richy Ledezma/Keaton Parks/James Sands central midfield, which worked so effectively against Nashville. Segal seems likely to get more chances, and perhaps a new signing at striker does get made in time for the second MLS transfer window that opens this summer. Until then, though, Santi’s standout showing as a False 9 could be the best solution for getting the most out of NYCFC’s top attacking players.
Dynamic right-side duo
One of the attacking players seemingly rejuvenated by having Santi as his No 9 was Gabriel Pereira. He was not shy to let it rip with that wicked left foot of his, scoring that early disallowed goal and dragging another similar effort wide not long after. Only credited with the one assist, he did the hard work leading up to Magno’s goal and should have scored if not for a great save for Dallas goalkeeper Maarten Paes. Pereira’s performance has ticked up a notch since Cushing removed him from the starting lineup for the trip up to New England. The win over Dallas was one of Pereira’s best, most fully-formed performances of the season, and he was helped by another strong showing from his defensive neighbor on the right side of the formation.
Mitja Ilenič continued to cement his place as the starter at right back with another strong showing vs Dallas. Ilenič was a key part of NYCFC breaking that Dallas press, and his ability to link up with Pereira on that side of the field helped NYCFC spring many of its best attacking moves. NYCFC have seemed more intent on building their play up along that right flank, and it’s likely due to the qualities consistently displayed by Ilenič and Pereira. They worked together to great effect against Dallas, providing more evidence that the duo of Pereira and Ilenič has staying power.
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James Sands: Built different
There was a strong contrast in this match in how each head coach handled players who participated in the midweek United States Men’s National Team friendly against Mexico. A critical player on each team started and went the distance in that friendly, as Dallas talisman Jesús Ferreira scored the lone USMNT goal, and James Sands put in one of the best US performances on the night in his first national team appearance in nearly two years. With NYCFC-Dallas coming just over 48 hours after the final whistle of USMNT-Mexico, it was an open question as to how much each team’s key player would be involved on MLS Matchday 9.
The answer seemed to possibly swing the balance of the match. Sands started, again captained NYCFC, and put in another exemplary 90 minutes as his team won convincingly. Ferreira, on the other hand, was rested by Dallas coach Nico Estevez, who only inserted his team’s leading scorer in the 57th minute when his team was already down 0-3.
It’s impressive that Sands was able to shake off that heavy red-card challenge he suffered in the Atlanta United match to not miss a beat for club or country. His return has been vital to NYCFC’s uptick in performance and results, and he played a key part in another win right after getting back from national team duty.
Loving city life
NYCFC won at Citi Field for a second straight match, continuing a sparkling run of form when playing at one of their two preferred venues in New York City. NYCFC have not lost any of their last 18 MLS matches played at either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, a streak dating back to a March 2022 home defeat to Philadelphia Union.
Citi Field remains a mini-fortress for NYCFC, as they’ve never lost a regular season MLS match there, and have suffered just the one crushing playoff defeat to Toronto FC in 2019 at the Queens stadium. The announced attendance was actually higher for the Dallas match than it was for the previous weekend’s “Citi Field home opener,” and the atmosphere was yet again loud, vibrant, and that of a true home-field advantage for NYCFC. The bad news in all of this is that NYCFC aren’t scheduled to return to one of their two favorite baseball parks until May 27th, when the Philadelphia Union make their first-ever visit to NYCFC’s home in Queens.
NYCFC, Rodríguez, 44′
NYCFC, Rodríguez, 50′
NYCFC, Talles Magno, 55′
Dallas, Martínez, 77′
Dallas, Pomykal, yellow card foul, 51′
Dallas, Obrian, yellow card foul, 66′
Dallas, Arriola, yellow card foul, 71′
NYCFC, Rodríguez, yellow card for time wasting, 90′
Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Assistant Referees: Lyes Arfa, Gianni Facchini
Fourth Official: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho
VAR: Younes Marrakchi
Assistant VAR: Jeff Muschik