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US Open Cup adds to NYCFC schedule congestion

5 games, 5 cities, 19 days: The NYCFC schedule is getting tight.

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The US Open Cup draw that was held yesterday didn’t hold the best news for New York City FC. The Boys in Blue will face FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium on Wednesday, May 10, adding a midweek away game against a tough opponent to an already difficult run of matches.

The NYCFC schedule now has five away games in a row, three of which are on short rest.

Courtesy FotMob

This NYCFC schedule isn’t as nearly as brutal as the one last season, when a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League had the team flying to Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Seattle — and had New York City playing “home” games in Los Angeles, Connecticut, and New Jersey. But it will test a team that discovered their form with convincing wins over Nashville SC and FC Dallas played in the friendly confines of Citi Field.

That’s because it’s hard to train on travel days — it can be done, but the charter flight and airport transfers disrupt the rhythm of the club. It’s significant because these past three weeks of training have proved to be instrumental to an NYCFC now undefeated in their last four games.

Remember, New York City added key players such as Santiago Rodríguez, Richy Ledezma, and James Sands after MLS league games were already underway. This early-season training is their preseason. Now that the players are more familiar with each other, the disjointed performances at the start of the season have been replaced by the lively, progressive, attractive soccer we expect of NYCFC.

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In other words, the chemistry NYCFC fans have seen in recent games at Citi Field in Queens is the direct result of the time the team spends playing together at the Etihad City Football Academy in Rockland County. Training will suffer if the squad is on a late flight back from Charlotte on Saturday night, has a rest day on Sunday, then needs to board a plane to Cincinnati a couple of days later.

The truth is the NYCFC schedule would be just as tricky had the team drawn Columbus Crew for the Round of 32 in the US Open Cup Round. Another tough opponent, another midweek flight to Ohio. The best possible scenario was to draw USL Championship side Loudoun United and play at Belson Stadium in Queens. The odds weren’t good going into the draw.

But the question remains: How will head coach Nick Cushing manage this run of games?

The team need to get results on the road. So far this season, NYCFC have taken just two points out of a possible 12 on the road. Only three teams in the Eastern Conference have a worse away record.

Will Cushing prioritize MLS league games over the US Open Cup? NYCFC made it as far as the quarterfinals in 2022 and 2019, and both years looked like they were in it to win it. (The 2021 and 2020 editions of the US Open Cup were canceled due to COVID.) But the club didn’t prioritize the tournament in 2015, 2016, 2017, or 2018. In each of those years, they were knocked out after one game. Back then, it was as if the team couldn’t be bothered.

Will Cushing soft-pedal the US Open Cup, and prioritize earning points on the road against Charlotte, who defeated NYCFC in their only two matches to date, and Red Bulls, who historically dominated New York City in the Hudson River Derby but lost at Red Bull Arena last year for the first time since 2018? Both feel like winnable away games if NYCFC maintain their current form.

Or will he go for it, and play his best Starting XI against a Cincinnati? After all, fans like silverware.

He almost certainly will play his best Starting XI tomorrow against Toronto. The Canadian side is strong but flawed, and you have to like NYCFC’s chances of picking up some points on the road.