New York City FC cannot win the MLS Cup – and here’s why

Oct 3, 2021; Harrison, New Jersey, USA; New York City FC head coach Ronny Deila watches his team during the second half against Nashville SC at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2021; Harrison, New Jersey, USA; New York City FC head coach Ronny Deila watches his team during the second half against Nashville SC at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2021 regular season is beginning to wind down for New York City FC.  With five matches left, the Pigeons are on the outside looking in for a playoff position, and are at risk of not making the postseason at all.  They only have 40 points from 29 fixtures, and currently sit in eighth place.  There is no doubt the rest of the season will be challenging, and NYCFC must play their best in order to make the playoffs again.

If the Bronx side makes the playoffs, then they cannot win the MLS Cup.  The current team is not a champion contender side, and there are too many issues, both with performance and coaching.

Firstly, the most glaring issue is that NYCFC cannot win on the road.  They have only managed three road wins, and often the expected performance level is not there.  They struggle with scoring away, and costly mistakes have led to draws or losses.

In order for the Pigeons to have any chance, then they must win on the road.  Although it would be difficult to achieve any home advantage, NYCFC would still likely find themselves on the road at some point.  Their struggles are not likely to change this year, so the inability to find success away from home would strike in the playoffs, thus leading to the team’s elimination once again.

New York City FC cannot win the MLS Cup in 2021, and might not make the playoffs

Of course, there is the playoff curse as well, where NYCFC finds themselves out of contention early on.  For some reason, the Pigeons have not found success in the playoffs.  They have never made it past the conference semifinals, and have had some embarrassing losses like the 7-0 aggregate loss against Toronto FC in 2016.  In fact, in nine playoff appearances, NYCFC only has two wins.  Historically, the playoffs have not been kind to the Pigeons, and this is something that sits in the back of every fan’s mind.

Additionally, there is the lack of consistency, notably in regards to scoring.  New York City FC is not consistent with their performances on the pitch, and can go from having one of the best matches of the season, to the poorest in the next.  Whereas 2021 has been better than 2020, the team continues to face scoring droughts, whether they are held scoreless or even only score one goal.  Despite numerous chances, the ball just will not go into the back of the net.

In some sense, NYCFC goes on streaks.  For example, from July 21 through August 28, the team scored 16 goals in eight games, winning five of those eight games.  Then, from September 3 to October 3, NYCFC scored eight goals in eight games, and won just once.  Three of those eight goals came from a 3-3 draw against FC Dallas.  Hence, NYCFC goes from strong periods of play, to subsequently poor periods.  This is also why they sit in just eighth place, and the playoff aspirations are threatened.

Finally, there is a highly apparent reason for why New York City FC cannot win the MLS Cup, and it is one man and one man alone: Ronny Deila.  In some ways, he is a good coach.  He is great with developing younger players, and fans have watched the likes of Valentín Castellanos and James Sands grow into their talent during his tenure.  He also, before the slide in September, turned the Pigeons into a defensive powerhouse, while leading his team to have the highest expected goals in the league.

However, the expected goals and defense means nothing if matches are not won, and vital points are not grabbed.  Deila could be great with improving individual players, but that does not matter unless the team consistently performs well.  Therefore, it is significant to judge the overall picture, and the overall picture reveals that Deila is not doing the best job.

Sure, the Pigeons realistically should not be in the first or second place position.  That was clear going into the season, and when new signings were made.  But they should have easily secured a playoff spot this year and should be playing better, at least in the sense they should beat teams toward the bottom of the table.  They should be consistently scoring multiple goals with the attackers they have, and should not be making game-costing mistakes.  Plus, it should not be happening over and over again.

As coach, Deila should be fixing these issues as the season goes on.  Yet, that is not the case.  Is it because he does not have a solution to the problems plaguing the team this year?  Is it because he cannot inspire his team?  Is it because he cannot adjust well on the pitch when his players are struggling?  These are questions that might remain unanswered, but in the end, the why does not matter.  Rather, Deila should be able turn New York City FC around.  So far, that is not the case.

Meanwhile, the head coach’s stubbornness is hurting the Pigeons’ chance in the playoffs too.  He continues to play, or not play, certain players, even if match performances should suggest otherwise.  He sticks to his guns, which can be an admirable trait, but not when tactics do not work.

He also fails to make substitutions in a timely manner, and often waits until it is too late in a game.  There were many times when NYCFC were losing, and he failed to make changes until the final 20 minutes.  Although, his choices are a hit or miss in impacting the remainder of a match.  Yet, there are still too many times where he had made the wrong change.  And who could forget the FC Dallas fixture where he made a substitution in the final minute, instead of sending his team to attempt to get the win with one last try?

Between his inability to fix the current issues with the team, his inability to adjust mid-game both tactically and substitution wise, and his stubbornness, Deila is part of why New York City FC cannot win the MLS Cup.  Evidently, he has to lead his team to the playoffs first, and that is the one part of the 2021 season that cannot be guaranteed.

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