1. What’s new about NYCFC this year? Who have they added, who have they lost?
It was a quiet offseason for NYCFC, but then it always is under sporting director David Lee. He’d rather wait to sign the right player in the middle of the season than make do with who’s available at that moment. The team let Jessús Medina leave, lost Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to the expansion draft, and let James Sands go to Rangers FC on loan. Of those, Tajouri-Shradi hurts the most: We miss his energy, his speed off the bench, his ability to play on the right.
NYCFC added central defender Thiago Martins from Yokahama F. Marinos, who was one of the best in the J1 league. That gives the club three legit starting center-backs. and you could argue that Martins, Alexander Callens, and Maxime Chanot are the best defensive line in MLS. Martins is a DP, which is quite the flex. He could be our Virgil Van Dijk. We’ll see.
2. Obviously, Champions League play will factor into this, but NYCFC has only earned four points in their first three matches. Is this acceptable and is it a good representation of how they’ve played thus far?
Not to make excuses, but the team had a nutty travel schedule to start the season: Away game in Costa Rica, “home” game in Los Angeles, away game in Los Angeles on short rest, away game in Vancouver, “home” game in East Hartford, CT on short rest, home game in the Bronx on short rest, away game in Guatemala City on short rest. For those of you keeping count, that’s one legit home game out of seven matches played.
The CCL is brutal, and you could see the wear and tear in Tuesday’s game in Guatemala City—traveling to Central America twice during the start of the MLS season is no joke. Still, NYCFC is out-performing the other MLS teams also in the CCL. New York is even doing better than New England, which won their first two games by forfeit.
How will that color Saturday’s game? Hard to say. The game in Guatemala City was a hot mess, but now that they’re heading into Saturday the team is the most settled they’ve been this season. Besides, the other guys always have a tough time at Yankee Soccer Stadium.
3. We hear the names Taty Castellanos and Sean Johnson thrown around a lot, who else is there to watch on this team?
Talles Magno has been electric this season. The 19-year-old attacker signed a DP contract last season, but 2021 was almost a redshirt year. Now he’s paired with Castellanos up top and they’re starting to find their chemistry. If they start clicking it will easily be the most lethal strike partnership in MLS.
4. On the flip side, where have teams exposed NYC’s weaknesses? Where’s somewhere that the Union will look to really work on Saturday?
NYCFC has been iffy in the midfield. It’s a tremendous lineup on paper – Maxi Moralez and Santiago Rodríguez pulling the strings up top, Keaton Parks playing box-to-box, Nicolás Acevedo or Alfredo Morales in holding, Gedion Zelalem a creative x-factor off the bench – but it’s been a little wobbly on the field. I miss the cool-headed leadership of James Sands (why did NYCFC loan him to Rangers FC?), but I suppose this lineup just needs time to gel. The performance against Montréal was their best so far this season, the performance against Comunicaciones their worst. How the midfield plays on Saturday will set the tone for the game.