It’s been nearly a year to date when Nick Cushing was first named Interim Head Coach for New York City Football Club, with then-coach Ronny Deila moving on to a new coaching endeavor to Standard Leige. While the club understandably sputtered bit with the adjustment, dropping to a fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, NYCFC finished the season rather strongly, making it to the Eastern Conference Final before falling short of their title defense to the Philadelphia Union.
This season, however, things have taken a turn for the dramatically worse, as the club currently sits at 13th in the Eastern Conference (25th overall) at a lowly 17 points earned so far this season. More troubling, they have not yet won a game on the road, and the once-dominant play at home seems to have disappeared as well. Is Cushing to blame? Or is he a victim to the penny pinching ways of City Football Group when it comes to their MLS affiliate?
To answer that question you’d first have to define what is Cushing’s criteria for success this season. After the midseason departure of Taty Castellanos, and the offseason exits of Maxi Moralez, Sean Johnson, Alexander Callens, and Anton Tinnerholm, there was a lot of veteran leadership and talent that left with only minimal upgrades made.
The fact that James Sands returning from an unsuccessful loan, and Santiago Rodríguez finally ending his game of cat and mouse to return to NYCFC, were seen as “key additions” was at the very least disingenuous if not outright disrespectful to the Bronx/Queens faithful’s football acumen. So there is some grounds to look elsewhere than Cushing when discussing the shortcomings of NYCFC so far this season.
At the same time, though, I look at the large collection of young attacking talent this club has and it puzzles me how toothless New York City have been for much of this season. If we aren’t going to analyze Cushing based on the wins and losses (which we still should) we must at least do a deeper dive into the young talent and see what’s going on so far.
As a collective, we have not seen advancement on this front.
Rodríguez, who has inherited the No 10 in both role and number from Maxi Moralez, has provided some scoring with four goals on the season, but he has only one assist. The playmaking just hasn’t been there centrally for Santi. This is a very clear step back for the young midfielder, as he finished last season with 10 assists from playing mostly out wide on the left. Perhaps the central attacking midfielder role isn’t his forte, but we haven’t seen him play out wide much at all either this season, instead playing a False 9 now with Richy Ledezma on the roster.
And then there’s the biggest symbol of Cushing’s tenure so far: Talles Magno. The extremely talented Brazilian who has seemed to just fade further and further away from being key member of this club.
Last season, when Castellanos made his way to Girona FC, the move was to bring Talles Magno up front, with the general assumption is the magical winger could make a similar transition to striker the way Taty once did himself for NYCFC. Talles Magno was doing a commendable job of that the finish of 2022. He definitely had some areas to work on, but after switching to the role midseason, some rough edges were understandable.
However, after a full offseason to come up with a strategy of how to use him as a No 9, it seemed Cushing and his staff were ill prepared. Did they assume a striker would be purchased in the winter? Who’s to say. What’s clear though, is what was at least passable to end last season, namely Talles Magno at the No 9, was abruptly abandoned and seems almost a non-starter right now. To make matters worse, moving him back to the left wing as has sometimes happened dmid-game hasn’t reignited the spark he provided last season.
In their brief history, NYCFC have found players who they developed into stars capable of playing in Europe. Maybe with the right signings, Cushing will bring more success in the wins and losses column for New York City. But he seems ill-suited to usher in the next wave of attacking talent.
You could even say his stewardship has been detrimental as well. It seems now that whatever glimmers of prominence NYCFC still showed after Deila left was due more to the leadership of players such Maxi, Johnson, and Callens. With those now gone, Cushing’s tactics and leadership are found lacking.