LEAGUES CUP | NYCFC’S Cup run ends with a bitter defeat in New Jersey

Photo by Melinda Morales

The Leagues Cup allowed New York to witness a city derby ahead of schedule. It was a perfect match on paper, winner takes all, bragging rights included. The teams arrived with momentum, RBNY with a last-minute goal against San Luis and NYCFC with a convincing victory against Toronto. Both are good reasons to bring out the fans despite the late kickoff but winning was the end game for each team. “Win at all costs,” as they say, especially in this kind of game. By the end of the night, we would be reminded that there are ways to win but also ways to lose.

Same venue, two different teams 

NYCFC displayed their best version of the season against Toronto. It seemed to be the start of a new chapter that left behind bitter results and performances. From attacking transitions to the long-awaited striker finally stepping in. It seemed that the Derby was the perfect match for redemption.

Santiago Rodriguez | Photo by Melinda Morales

If you add the fact that NYCFC had more recovery time than the hosts, it looked like a manageable match with high positive outcomes for the Boys In Blue. Unfortunately, like many times this season, the team once again failed to show consistency. This time, however, it wasn’t because the starting lineup was changed, the manager kept the winning squad, but for reasons beyond anyone understanding the team fell flat from start to finish.

The game began with the  “scan your rival” approach, as it should be, but the team never really found itself on the field. It was as if they never played together, constantly trying to build up from the back as if there were no other options. This allowed the hosts to make little to no pressing at times, making NYCFC return to their half without much effort.

The team just wasn’t there for most of the match. The constant turnovers were a product of their frustration. The midfield was nonexistent, and the wings produced more danger for the rival than for themselves. If there was a moment that signaled the beginning of the end, it had to be Santiago Rodriguez letting a sigh in midfield during a throw-in. Seeing him helpless unfortunately gave me an idea as to how the game was going to conclude. I didn’t want to get ahead, but like I said in the beginning, there are ways to win and lose a game.

NYRB defeated NYCFC in New Jersey | Photo by Melinda Morales

While you never want to start the game with a disadvantage, it has to be something you’re prepared for. Based on the format of the tournament, the draw allows you to win the game through a penalty shootout. So if that’s the last resort, why not aim for the draw right?

I think most of us would take that approach and work towards making the changes that make that happen. If the left wing is your weak spot, make the change to balance things out. True the changes in midfield were assessed, but not reinforcing the wing for the whole match was probably the biggest mistake. The support was there, and there was no injury report for anyone on the bench, so it’s not that the position didn’t have a backup. While it may have given the starting player a negative spotlight, you should always play to win, even if sacrifices have to be made. After all, a substitution only means a temporary change unless it meant otherwise.

The approach and playing style was what made the defeat more difficult to take in. You’re only down one goal, but you have enough time to regroup to change the result, go on the attack. The team continued with a defensive approach throughout the game.

Thiago Martins | | Photo by Melinda Morales

There was never a sense of urgency to push forward and take advantage of the striker’s mobility in the attacking third. Maintaining possession is key, but when the clock is against you, there comes a moment where the game plan is not important. Make the long passes and fight for the ball in mid-air if you have to, but show glimpses of change in hopes of a better result. If you know you have attacking options, make the changes with enough time for them to have an impact. Why wait until the last 10 minutes when you had 45 to switch things around? The reaction came too late, it was impossible to aim for a better result with that window of time remaining. It was an inevitable end to a preventable defeat. NYCFC’s Cup run ended in the worst way possible, at the hands of your city rivals nonetheless.

I understand it’s easier said than done, and we all see each game from different perspectives. But this game brought the team three steps back when it should have pushed them forward. This squad has quality, and I’m sure they will work on their mistakes ahead of the return to the regular season. Hopefully, the new signings can give the team a new face ahead of 10 must-win games. This was a tough defeat, but the team has enough time to regroup and come back stronger.