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04 de Junio de 2023 a las 03:42

Photo courtesy of Winslow Townson, USA Today Sports
Article by Robin Gwiazdowski
Columnist and Host of The Sports Den on Spanglish World Networks, Spanglish Sports World & Zingo TV
New York. - In 2021, NYCFC was viewed by many as the scrappy underdog, the long shot who made it all the way and took home the MLS cup. Expectations were high in 2022. Despite multiple changes in both the playing and coaching staff, the Boys in Blue managed to finish third in the Eastern Conference with a record of 16-11-7. Now, almost halfway through the 2023 season, they are ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 4-6-4, all wins occurring at home. This apparently drastic change has many fans, pundits, and journalists wondering what’s going wrong. Many are blaming head coach Nick Cushing for the team’s poor performance. Although he’s new to MLS with only 2 seasons as an assistant coach and one and a half as head coach, Cushing came to NYCFC with 7 years of experience as head coach of Manchester City Women. In Manchester, he had a 75% win rate over his career and was voted FA Women’s Manager of the Year in 2016. As the heir apparent to former head coach Ronny Deila, he was privy to the management style, tactics, and strategy that led to allowed the team to dominate in 2021.
The biggest difference between this season and the previous two is the makeup of the team. The average age of the players was 25.7 in 2021 and 23.2 in 2023. In addition to their youth, many of the players are new to the team. Only 12/28 players on the 2021 roster still remain, many of whom are infrequently in the starting 11. With the exception of defender Maxime Chanot who has had 8 seasons with the team, few players have been with them for more than 3 seasons, and there are 7 new faces this year. When asked about the painful loss to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, Cushing blames the youth and lack of maturity of NYCFC compared to the Union who are a more cohesive unit. After watching their performance, I have to agree. When the Union scored goals, they almost came as a surprise, while the set up for Pereira’s goal for NYCFC was more apparent. Despite leading the match in pass completion, and shots on target, the Boys in Blue weren’t able to make them count. The team did not seem cohesive; it appeared as though they were waiting for a teammate to get into position for a play rather than anticipating their movements while making a pass. This allowed the Union’s strong defense to anticipate NYCFC’s next move and prepare for it. The other aspect of maturity is the ability to focus on one play at a time, one movement at a time, to advance the match. NYCFC seemed to struggle with frustration as the match progressed, which likely interfered with their focus and performance.
How can this team turn the season around? Replacing Cushing is not the answer. Bringing in more experienced players may help, but it will also change the makeup of an already newly created team. The only answer I can see is time. It takes time to learn the strengths, weaknesses, and playing style of your teammates and adjust to become more cohesive. For a young and newly formed team, it may not be feasible this season. All we can do is hope for the turnaround to come sooner rather than later while looking forward to 2024.