The season is slowly reaching the midway point, and it’s usually when we start to see where teams are in terms of aspirations. We already know the title contenders to the disappointments of the season. In other words, it’s crunch time, especially for those who don’t want to miss out on the playoffs. How does this apply to NYCFC?
Simple, really, they are among the teams who are losing the margin of error. The latest draw against Columbus Crew really opened up the “what if” scenarios. Yes, the team plays well, but it doesn’t help when teams around you start picking up the points that were rightfully yours. Nevertheless, NYCFC still controls their destiny to some extent, but can they find the missing pieces in time for the playoffs? Or is it too late?
A Striker is Desperately Needed
This has been the team’s recurring problem for a while now. The need for a striker has always been something that the fanbase has been vocal about for a while. But it has reached a point that acquiring one transitioned from a need to a must due to recent performances.
The squad has very talented players, but they need that finishing touch that allows their buildup to be compensated with goals. The experiment with Talles Magno just doesn’t work, it’s obvious now that he is more of a supplier than a finisher.
It may sound like a repetitive point, but we saw his best when he was next to a proper striker. Without a reference to the attack, we have seen both sides of the coin in terms of Talles. If you add that the team ended with a 12-winning-less game run really puts everything in perspective. Those 12 games were either drawn by one or lost by one, even the win had a one-goal difference.
Fast forward to these last two games against Charlotte and Columbus Crew, the team created more than enough chances to win the games but ended up with a draw.
The addition of O’Toole against Columbus Crew did add a fresh getaway to attack, but all his runs never really paid off without a reference in attack. It’s as if nobody wants to take the responsibility of taking a shot, everyone either passed it back or made an extra pass when they had a chance to shoot. Moments that change the season’s narrative if the piece in the attack wasn’t missing.
Despite this, there have been unsung heroes in the attack for NYCFC. Believe it or not, the latest scores have been defenders. Against Charlotte, Braian Cufre was able to hit a low crossed shot to beat the keeper. He really brought the clock back and reminded me of the strikes Roberto Carlos used to make, good stuff by the defender.
The storyline continued against Columbus as Justin Haak’s shot took everyone by surprise in the last 15 minutes of the game. He became the first homegrown player to score with the first team, so the defender definitely scored one for the history books.
The spark is not enough for NYCFC
In this part, I address the dependence on the midfield, specifically Santi Rodriguez. The absence of the midfielder was heavily felt against Charlotte. The team missed that extra outlet of creativity despite having solid performances by Keaton Parks and Richard Ledezma. However, his return against Columbus brings the issue back full circle.
The team gains back that creative outlet, but has no finisher that can take full advantage of his creativity in midfield. Haak’s goal was a good example of that, hopefully, it was enough to continue the search for a striker in the current transfer window. The team can’t keep putting their midfielders as attacking players, the squad loses key assets whenever they implement that idea.
Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that there are other factors that contribute to the team’s limitations, but the final piece of the puzzle up front seems to be the root of the problem this season. Looking at the bright side, the team continues to show unity and trust in each other despite the results. They are aware of the good and the bad, and they are convinced that they are only one play away from turning things around for the remainder of the season.
So what’s ahead for NYCFC? Realistically speaking, their best shot is to win the Leagues Cup. The tournament offers a direct ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League. A
good run through the final stages can secure that possibility, but it’s up to them to make it happen. There’s also a rumor going around that brings a Brazilian to the big apple. With Messi’s inevitable arrival, that move can’t be considered too crazy.
Again those are all just rumors, but sometimes it is good to dream big. The team now heads to Philadelphia prior to taking on the Leagues Cup Challenge. Their last visit wasn’t the best, but I’m hoping that the ongoing rivalry is a motivator to get some much-needed 3 points on the road.