By James Nalton.
The New York area Major League Soccer teams have made indifferent starts to the 2023 season, with neither New York City FC nor New York Red Bulls picking up a win in their first two games of the campaign.
This is not an immediate problem, especially given 62% of teams in the league qualify for the post-season this year, but as a result of this, teams will need to set their own goals if they have ambitions of doing well in the regular season — as both New York teams should.
It is not enough to state an aim of reaching the playoffs as that in itself is not much to shout about in 2023.
The Red Bulls and City should be looking to be in the running for the Supporters’ Shield, but both are yet to show the form that suggests they can be.
Both have reasons to hope that things will improve as the season progresses, though. There are new signings to bed in, and new partnerships on which to work in these early competitive games.
There have also been signs within these early games that once something clicks these teams will begin to score goals and win games.
For the Red Bulls, new Designated Player and center-forward Dante Vanzeir played his first minutes for the club at the end of the second game of this new season — the home opener against Nashville SC, a 0-0 draw.
Head coach Gerhard Struber will be hoping the Belgian, signed from Union Saint-Gilloise in the off-season, will be able to convert some of the chances they have created in the opening games but so far failed to take.
Another new signing up top, the 21-year-old Brazilian Elias Manoel who joined from Grêmio, has looked lively in moments but needs to be more clinical.
The Red Bulls are one of only two Eastern Conference teams without a goal with two games played (the other being CF Montreal), and now need to convert some of the intense pressing and direct football for which they are known not only into chances on goal but into converted chances.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) March 6, 2023
Their defence has been good, though, with Sean Nealis heavily involved in these impressive performances at that end of the field. So much so that goalkeeper Carlos Coronel has not seen a shot on his goal other than the penalty conceded to Orlando City in the 1-0 defeat in the season opener.
“I think if we stay stout defensively, our chances will come on the offensive end,” Nealis told reporters after the Chicago game. “We’ve just got to hold strong, hold it together as a team, and I think we’ll be fine.
“Hopefully we can keep getting shutouts. It’s never a bad thing to get a shoutout. So hopefully we could keep doing it.
“Andrés [Reyes] is playing real well, and we’ve got a lot of guys playing well defensively.
“Cristian [Cásseres Jr.] and Frankie [Amaya] are working real hard in the midfield there, and I think they’re doing a good job defensively.
“Hopefully we can just build ourselves offensively, even if it’s set-piece wise offensively, so it’s something we’ll work on this week and hopefully get the win next week.”
New York City scored their first goal of the season in the most recent of their two games, away at Chicago Fire. City hasn’t necessarily played badly in these two games and has shown real promise at times, but it would also be inaccurate to say it has played well overall in these openers.
The scorer of that goal, Gabriel Pereira, ended last season as one of the most promising young players in MLS, and has shown glimpses of that early on this season, though he has had little support.
He had more against Chicago Fire in the shape of new right-back Mitja Ilenič who, despite being just 18, showed signs he could be a very useful attacking option from this position, replacing Anton Tinnerholm.
Santi Rodriguez returned to the club this week and played 20 minutes or so at the end of the Chicago game, while another returning player, James Sands, started in midfield alongside Keaton Parks.
But the positives remain no more than promise, potential, and works in progress. They need to convert that into a real impact on the field that can bring goals and positive results.
A similar conclusion for both teams, then.