By James Nalton.
New York City FC goalkeeper Matt Freese has recorded three clean sheets in his recent four starts for the team having taken the No.1 spot from Luis Barraza.
The latest came as part of a 2-0 win against Orlando City on Wednesday, a result that begins to make New York City’s recent results look more respectable.
Barraza started the season looking like the ideal goalkeeper coty NYCFC’s style of play, building out from the back and even joining the outfield on occasions.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) June 17, 2023
A poor 2023 season has led NYCFC to change tack somewhat, with even its best players, such as Talles Magno, falling out of favor as the team and head coach Nick Cushing tried to turn things around.
Part of that has been a fight for the No.1 spot, and it appears towards the end of the season that Freese has become the main man between the posts.
Not obviously as good with his feet as Barraza, and less likely to naturally contribute to build-up play, Freese has had to learn to adapt this side of his game to complement his shot-stopping.
“The communication is huge for me, learning this new style,” Freese said after the Orlando win. “It’s not a secret — it’s a new style for me coming from Philly, but also there’s the fact of managing the game, knowing where we are [in the game].
“Whether it’s in the first half time-wise, seeing the energy of the guys or seeing the energy of the opponent, it’s something that I’m definitely getting more comfortable with, but it’s always a work in progress.
“Even if I’m the best goalkeeper in the world, with my feet it’s still going to be a work in progress, so the communication with my teammates — Thiago [Martins] Santi [Rodriguez] — is very important during the game.
“It might appear a little bit less nice than it is, but that’s just because it’s the heat of the moment and then we get into halftime and immediately it’s a cordial conversation. We’re talking it out and figuring the best path forward.”
Freese produced the only standout moment of the Hudson River derby last weekend with an instinctive reaction save from Omir Fernandez to keep his clean sheet intact.
@nycfc In safe hands 🙌 #NYCFC #MLS #MattFreese #Save ♬ original sound – nycfc
It is this type of key save that may have convinced Cushing that at this moment in time they are better off with a goalkeeper whose strengths lie in stopping shots rather than contributing to build-up play. Though, as Freese says, the latter part of the game is something he is constantly looking to improve.
NYCFC is now on a run of four games unbeaten consisting of two wins and two draws. This is a much better outlook than the one that has cast a shadow over its 2023 season, and means that despite this recent run it is still below the playoff line.
Now, though, there is some hope of postseason qualification, and Freese has played a big part in this change in mindset.
“We can’t get too happy,” added Freese. “We’re already on to the next game, music turned off, and people are going to get as much sleep as they can tonight.
“Then we are going to be at training tomorrow at 8 am, so we’ve just got to stay confident with a result like this, but not get ahead of ourselves by any means.”