New York City FC might have lost Wednesday, but Ismael Tajouri-Shradi proved he is talented enough to start ahead of incumbent Jesús Medina.
On Wednesday, New York City FC hosted Tigres UANL in the first leg of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals. The game did not go the Pigeons way as a last-minute goal from Tigres’ Eduardo Vargas secured the 1-0 win for the Mexicans.
But despite the negative outcome, the game illuminated an important piece to the starting XI: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
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While he did not score, Tajouri-Shradi had a positive overall performance. The 25-year-old moved the ball speedily up the pitch, easing the play into the attacking third. He was continuously thinking on his feet, seeking out teammates to cross the ball to. He might have missed a few passes, but he is still working his way back from injury and showed plenty of spark that he can get back to his 2018 form.
Tajouri-Shradi also illustrated terrific moments of technique and skill. Numerous times throughout the game, he weaved his way through opposing players with his quick feet, leaving defenders behind. His twisting and turning ability even led to an opportune moment in the 49th minute, where he manoeuvred among Tigres players to advance the ball toward Anton Tinnerholm. The right-back then passed the ball to forward Héber, whose shot was blocked.
The Libyan international’s presence on the pitch was clearly felt through opportunities created and his own chances — he had three shots in the match, two of were on target. His talented display against Tigres should be enough to persuade Ronny Deila to start him. Yet, in the first four games, of the season, in both the CCL and MLS, Jesús Medina has started.
Medina has come under scrutiny from fans and the media since he began his New York City FC career. While he has had some decent games here and there and scored some lovely goals that display a tantalising ability, he has been predominantly lackluster and unimpressive. And while Deila has given him chances aplenty in 2020, Medina has continued to produce uninspiring and flat performances.
When he is on the pitch, it sometimes feels like he is not there. He is unable to move the ball like Tajouri-Shradi can, he lacks the speed to dart in behind opposing defenses, and his meandering dribbling that lacks purpose or pace is not made up for by incisive passes, lethal finishing, or outrageous creativity. He might be a Designated Player, but Tajouri-Shradi plays at a higher level. So why is Deila starting Medina over Tajouri-Shradi? This is something the head coach must answer.
Ultimately, then, while NYCFC did not come out with a positive result against Tigres in the first leg, Tajouri-Shradi proved he is a player worthy and talented enough to start. And that may just pay dividends as the season progresses.