Breaking down NYCFC’s losing streak and necessary changes

keaton parks, nycfc

It’s safe to say that things are far from perfect for NYCFC at the moment. Results lately have left more questions than answers, and the defeat against the Red Bulls was the last straw. With one more game on the road before returning home, it’s time to look at what has gone wrong for the Boys in Blue and what could be done to fix the issues that stop the team from picking up points away from the Big Apple.

However, I have to clarify that these lines are in no way intended to criticize or directly attack the team in a negative way. I firmly believe that a good team is built from the positive and negative moments, so it’s up to the group to turn things around and brush off the negative results.

The missing piece to NYCFC’s puzzle 

Yes, it’s a rebuilding season, and yes, key players left the squad, but it hasn’t been all bad for NYCFC, from losing players like Maxi Moralez and Alexander Callens to gaining fan favorites like Mitja Ilenic and Richie Ledezma.

The “new kids” have settled pretty well with the team. The goal is also in good hands, with Luis Barraza and Freeze both showing that they are solid and ready to hold the team in that area of the field despite the recent results. The problem begins in the attacking third of the system.

If there’s anything that the streak of negative results showed us is that possession and control mean nothing if we can’t score during games. While it may seem like a basic concept to many of us, there are details and perspectives that only the team staff know about. But the team cannot afford to keep losing points on the road if the goal is to make the playoffs. It’s time for management to intensify the search for a true striker.

The “false 9” experiment can prove effective occasionally, but it loses its purpose if you use it as your main weapon in attack week in and week out.

Santiago Rodriguez was or is a perfect decoy in that striker position should the team need to add an element of surprise during a tough match. But he’s not a player that’s comfortable to take on the role on the regular. He’s best when he distributes the ball in attack, so without anyone up front to finish the plays, the team loses that finishing touch.

Yes, I may sound like a broken record, but there are times many fans turn against players that only do what they are told. This could also be applied to Talles Magno, given what he went through at the beginning of the season, but recent performances don’t really help his case.

The Brazilian hasn’t been able to find his best form since Taty’s departure. Despite returning to the wing, he continues to struggle to make an impact. Perhaps a natural striker puts everything in place. That way, Santi recovers that element of surprise, and Talles hopefully finds the connection that helps him gain his confidence back. While it’s nice to congratulate Taty’s milestones in Europe, the time has come for us to gain back that goal-scoring striker once again.

Leadership and working toward a common objective 

Every successful team has a leadership factor printed within them. Losing Maxi Moralez and Sean Johnson left that unwritten responsibility up for grabs within the team.

Honestly, it began pretty well, in my opinion. Everyone pushed each other and built from that to find motivation. But as soon as things started getting rough, it broke apart in the blink of an eye.

The infamous situation in Toronto was probably the last straw for a situation that had clearly been in the works from previous matches. It’s never a good sign to see two teammates argue with each other, regardless of the situation.

The manager can brush it off, assessing it as something that happens in the heat of the moment, and that’s usually the case, but the consequences directly affected the team in the following match. The team chemistry was broken at a moment when the team could have obtained a positive result.

Trust me, the result against Charlotte was decided by a single moment of misfortune. I’m sure if that free kick did not happen, things would have been different. But not having Chanot and Talles affected the team’s chemistry that had built up until that point.

Yes, results were negative even with both on the field, but the team remained untouched in those matches. While the situation could be behind them at this point, I still sense a degree of tension among the team. If you add the fact that James Sands has stayed with the captain’s armband since the incident, one can speculate that something changed in the locker room. Chanot was called to be the player with that leadership role, given his years with the team, but that chapter with Talles could have changed things a bit in his leadership role. 

But why am I recapping all of this just to get to leadership and a common goal? Simple, if there’s a division within the team, things will never flow the right way, even if the team is complete.

In a team-oriented sport, the creation of factions within a squad can bring negative consequences from players picking who to play with during matches or even in terms of day-to-day training. It causes division and stops the team from achieving its true potential.

In this aspect, the absence of players like Heber Araujo is truly felt in the locker room. The Brazilian proved to be the unspoken leader in the locker room. Despite not having minutes, he managed to hold the team together during the tough stretches. Hopefully, the team manages to find that unspoken leader within the squad soon.

This is a very young team, so there are many aspects that they have to figure out as time progresses. But they have to understand that arguing and dividing the locker room is a recipe for disaster. 

Set pieces and looking toward the future

This area has been NYCFC’s weakest point all season and raises a big concern. How does a team that made set pieces their secret weapon lose that strength so quickly?

Yes, players like Callens and Tinnerholm were vital during set pieces, but nobody expected NYCFC to lose that power so quickly. Many blame the lack of connection during these plays, but these are things you practice week after week during training.

If anything, I believe that set pieces are among the few things that the team staff has direct responsibility over, mainly because they study the rivals in depth and know precisely how every play should be executed.

The fact that we have allowed so many goals and dropped points week after week makes me wonder if the team is either not reading the plays correctly or if the rival has already figured out the team’s weaknesses. Nevertheless, the manager needs to fix this issue fast because even if the team gets a striker, allowing goals from set pieces just throws all the work away.

Looking ahead, I say that the best result for the team ahead of that small break coming up could be a draw. Winning always helps, but I believe it is best if the team walks away with a draw. That way, the team and staff can regroup and use this off-period to scratch the team’s current agenda and start fresh against Philadelphia.

In addition, I hope that the squad finds a way to create shooting chances more often. Passing the ball tiki-taka style does help break the opponent’s defensive system, but if you have space to take a shot at goal, take it, there’s no need to keep passing the ball or instead always look for a crossing opportunity. The approach makes the team very predictable and allows the rival to prepare for the match with a sense of advantage. The game against Orlando will most likely signal a turning point for NYCFC. 

Will they be able to stick together and turn the page against Philly in a few days? Or does the NYCFC fan base have to prepare for disappointment?

Remember that NYCFC has a shot at the Leagues Cup this summer. I’m sure that having a trophy within reach can be enough motivation. For now, we wait and see what the group can do against Orlando and for the remainder of the season. I trust the process and hope Nick Cushing finds a way to turn things around and keep this moment as a reference point to measure success down the line.

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