New York City FC: Defense shines but finishing struggles continue

New York City FC (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
New York City FC (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

New York City FC faced New England in a 0-0 draw on Saturday

The last time New York City FC faced the New England Revolution, they won at Gillette Stadium 2-0.  In a normal season, the Pigeons would have hosted the Revs the next time they played, but instead, the club found themselves back in Massachusetts a few weeks later.  Unfortunately, NYCFC was without Maxi Moralez, who had been ruled out four to six weeks due to his knee injury.  Plus Ronald Matarrita was still dealing with his calf and Anton Tinnerholm had Achilles soreness, thus leading him to start on the bench.

With the injuries and James Sands out on yellow card accumulation, there were some changes to the Starting XI.  However, despite attacking struggles, NYCFC’s defense held the Revs to a 0-0 draw, extending their unbeaten streak to six games.  Notably, 17-year-old Joe Scally and newcomer Nicolás Acevedo made their first MLS starts, both holding their own in the defense.

Both players had moments that highlighted their potential and were calm and composed throughout their minutes played.  Scally may not have the same pace and attacking abilities as Tinnerholm, but he did make some solid runs and helped the defense keep the Revolution out of goal.  Meanwhile, Acevedo made some noise in the central defense, breaking up plays in critical moments and had seven recoveries.  In the end, both proved they are options for Ronny Deila, and he can confidently rely on them in upcoming games.

New York City FC’s defense easily got the job done

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Overall, the defensive players shined against New England.  Maxime Chanot had multiple critical clearances, while Alexander Callens had numerous recoveries to regain possession.

The two center-backs were crucial in backing up goalkeeper Sean Johnson and eliminated crosses from the Revolution.

In the meantime, Gudmundur Thórarinsson, who was in for Matarrita again, kept up with opposing players on the left side.  Like Callens, he made multiple recoveries.  He even made an essential stop in the 79th minute, disallowing Cristian Penilla from making a cross into the box by clearing the ball out of bounds.

But this defensive showing was not complete without Johnson.  The keeper made seven saves for New York City FC, keeping the Revolution out of goal.  He especially kept Teal Bunbury and Gustavo Bou from capitalizing on chances.  Specifically, it was Johnson’s second save that set the storyline for him.  In the 13th minute, Bunbury struck the ball with pace and strength, but the NYCFC keeper had a clear-cut save, moving in the right direction and at the right moment to prevent a possible golazo.

The attack was not there for New York City FC

Whereas the defense was on point, the attacking third again struggled with finishing.  In fact, the Pigeons only had eight shots in this game, which is unusual to how they have been playing.  New England not only limited their opportunities but when opportunities were there, NYCFC could not cash in.  Particularly, Alexandru Mitriță had a few mishaps in the box, missing the ball and tripping on the turf.

The Romanian, who has been struggling this year, still had three shots total but did not look his best.  Part of that can be due to Deila not giving him many opportunities in the resumption of MLS play as well.  Nonetheless, he has to do better.

The same goes for Héber, who only has one goal this season.  Arguably he does not get the same crosses and passes from NYCFC players that he got in 2019, which limits his opportunities to score.  But he has also missed on chances, which again was a reoccurrence today.  At this point in the season, it is concerning that the striker cannot get his goals.

Is the difference from 2019 because of him?  Is it the players around him?  Or is it simply because of Deila’s tactics?  This is something the team must solve, for once the Brazilian gets going, it will be difficult to stop him.

Regardless of the unbeaten streak, and despite the goals throughout the streak, New York City FC is still struggling with their finishing.  While the Pigeons seem to have solidified their defense from the early part of the season, the lack of goals and issues among the attack does not make sense.  This is a team that was able to score in 2019.

They need to figure out the problem and smooth it out because a team cannot compete in the playoffs unless they score on open opportunities.  Again, is it the players themselves, or is it Deila’s tactics?  Answers are needed, but more importantly, goals are a must.

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Unlike the game against D.C. United, this draw was not as frustrating.  But there is nothing better than three points, and undoubtedly NYCFC would have preferred to leave with a win.  In spite of the scoring struggles, the defense held the relentless New England Revolution to zero goals.  This performance was a strong one overall, and confidence is probably flowing in the defensive third.  But with Toronto FC coming up on Wednesday, the Pigeons must find their goal-scoring feet.  Otherwise keeping the unbeaten streak make become problematic.