By James Nalton.
Nashville 2, New York City 0
The 2023 Major League Soccer season produced a strange opening game for New York City FC, which was perhaps to be expected given the exodus of players in the past year — especially during the offseason between 2022 and 2023.
None of the players played particularly badly in the 2-0 defeat at Nashville but as a collective, they never looked like having enough to score, while they also conceded a couple of avoidable goals.
An experienced spine of players, including Maxi Moralez, Alexander Callens, Sean Johnson, Nicolás Acevedo, Héber, Anton Tinnerholm and Taty Castellanos have departed in recent times, leaving them light on depth in certain areas. The most glaring of these, especially from watching the first game of 2023, is the striker position.
NYCFC really lack a central forward, and even if they want to go with a false 9 style setup, they still need someone who can perform that role to a high level if their aim is to challenge for trophies.
Between them, the players who have left the club scored 40 goals last season (per Transfermarkt stats), 47 if you include Santi Rodriguez who is rumoured to be returning, but either way, it’s a big number to have to make up.
Saturday’s season opener highlighted this issue further. According to Fotmob, NYCFC created an xG of just 0.40 and there were no “big chances”, compared to Nashville’s three (shown below).
They had 62% of the possession and looked good at times as they approached the final third, but once in it, there was no cutting edge.
Sometimes chance creation is as much about the positioning of the forward as it is about the creativity of those behind them, and for NYCFC it was often the case that there was no one in the central attacking position to pass to.
Talles Magno started the game as New York City’s centre forward but struggled to perform that role. He did, though, look good in the areas he normally looks good in. Whenever he found space out wide on the left and was able to look inside, driving towards the box on his stronger right foot, he was a threat to the opposition defence.
Head coach Nick Cushing’s use of Talles Magno as a central forward lasted for around a half of soccer. Were this to be his position for the rest of the season, they surely would have surely persisted with it for longer.
Does this suggest reinforcements are on their way? NYCFC fans will certainly hope so.
Thiago Andrade took up the central position in the second half as Cushing switched to more of a 3-4-3 formation in which they all looked more comfortable.
Thiago Andrade is a player who looks like he could do a job in any position, and at times he held up the ball well and linked up effectively with the midfield, but again the centre-forward instinct was missing, as it was with Talles Magno before him.
The double-pivot of Keaton Parks and Justin Haak was encouraging, as was some of the play of new signing at left-back, Braian Cufré, despite some sloppy moments.
Thought Justin Haak was decent too.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) February 28, 2023
Kevin O’Toole came on in the second half and gave a reminder of how well he fits in that 3-4-3 system, while Gabriel Pereira showed glimpses of the promise he had shown last season.
NYCFC are lucky in that the main thing they need for this team to improve is fairly obvious. Finding the right striker might not be as easy as identifying that this is what’s needed, but MLS teams with lesser resources seem to manage it well enough, so there’s no reason why a City Football Group club can’t.