Defeats like this can be good for a team like New York City FC, depending on the reaction to it.
Despite a poor record in recent games and not having lived up to expectations last season, Saturday’s opponent Toronto FC isn’t a shabby outfit and has some of the highest-paid and potentially best players in the league.
Bob Bradley’s team is one of the most dangerous MLS opponents on its day, if everything clicks, the problem for them has been that it all too rarely does.
And it was far from the case that everything clicked for Toronto as New York City fell to a 1-0 defeat in Canada, but the home side created the one big chance that was enough to win what was a poor-quality game of early regular-season MLS stodge.
From a New York City perspective, it can be tempting to react to this game by saying: change the formation; change the personnel; the lack of a true number nine is to blame.
Should the team switch to a variation of 3-4-3 with wing-backs when Kevin O’Toole comes into the team, as was the case last season?
O’Toole was generally good in attack, but the left side of the defence, including Maxime Chanot, struggled against Toronto. O’Toole was bypassed by Richie Laryea for the goal and Chanot was drawn out of position. The resulting shift to the left and slow midfield cover meant no NYCFC defender was marking the Toronto striker CJ Sapong as the cross came in.
On the other hand, both O’Toole and Chanot looked like decent outlets in attack. They were looking forward more often than others, with the Chanot sometimes trying something different by going long, and were generally tidier than the right side.
The right was better defensively, though. Thiago Martins and Mitja Ilenič doubled up well on Lorenzo Insigne. The young Slovenian right-back performed admirably against the talented Italian but was less impressive in possession on this occasion, though it wasn’t a bad performance overall.
Head coach Nick Cushing has said he won’t always go with a false nine, and in hindsight, this might have been one of the games to switch it up. That hindsight makes it easy to say, though, and Santi Rodriguez himself, the much-discussed false nine, didn’t have a bad game either. His best moments were often disrupted by fouls by Toronto defenders.
NYCFC’s pass map from this game shows no progression out from defence and a string of passes between the back four and the goalkeeper.
A couple of images that sum up New York City’s performance in defeat to Toronto. xG of 0.27. #NYCFC
🖼️ from @MLS and @InfogolApp. pic.twitter.com/D6SoqVddEb
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) May 1, 2023
Rather than call for changes, maybe the current setup and style, which has only recently begun to be used, just needs a bit of work.
NYCFC does have progressive passers and ball carriers, but they weren’t used effectively in this game. Moving that possession upfield from the backline to the opposition half is doable.
Aside from technique and tactics, the NYCFC players did show some desire, if not quality and incisiveness.
An altercation between Chanot and Talles Magno towards the end of the game summed up the frustration for NYCFC.
Tempers flaring between Chanot & Talles at the end of a really frustrating game, can’t blame them after that one pic.twitter.com/OyTS1sDBHf
— ⭐️Post 90’ Podcast – NYCFC (@post90pod) April 30, 2023
It was poor from Chanot to react like this towards one of his teammates, but Talles definitely has work to do to improve and realise his potential. The Brazilian can often be an easy target, though, and probably needs encouragement rather than a rollicking. He was far from the only poor performer, and Chanot himself wasn’t the best, either.
It was nevertheless good to see that every game matters to the players, as they all should, from MLS regular season games to Open Cup to CCL (when applicable) — even the Leagues Cup. These players are being paid to give everything for the supporters and it was good to see that there is some passion and frustration when things aren’t going their way. It shows they care.
Ultimately, though, these games don’t really matter that much in terms of the bigger picture of the season. At this stage, a team just needs to be OK and keep itself in and around the playoff places, before aiming to come into form towards the end of the season. The time to really worry would be if there is a collection of such performances.
This might also be why NYCFC are happy to wait until the summer before signing a striker, rather than take up roster and salary space now with a signing that might only be a temporary solution.
MLS teams can be judged throughout the season, but at this stage it’s more a case of fine-tuning, working on team fluency, togetherness, and testing out tactics before the bigger, more meaningful games that will come later in the season.
The defeat in Toronto gave NYCFC plenty to work on in these areas, and it appears Cushing needs to work on togetherness as well as tactics.