Name: Christian McFarlane
Key Stat: 4, number of times he was on the bench as an unused substitute for New York City FC across all competitions in 2023, three times during Leagues Cup, and once on Decision Day in MLS. 2024 first-team debut up next?
There’s one big question to consider when looking ahead to Christian McFarlane’s 2024 season: Will he make his MLS debut with New York City FC?
The now-17-year-old begins 2024 still in the “prospect” or “for the future” category, but appears to be the closest to an MLS debut of the coterie of teenagers currently signed to NYCFC Homegrown contracts.
McFarlane’s minutes in MLS NEXT Pro increased by 140% percent between the 2022 and 2023 seasons, and he made the NYCFC bench on four occasions between Leagues Cup and MLS. McFarlane’s debut chances are buoyed by NYCFC’s thinness at his natural left back position, where only Kevin O’Toole remains as a clear-cut MLS option.
A step up in NEXT Pro in 2023
McFarlane made 20 appearances for NYCFC II in MLS NEXT Pro during the 2023 season, nearly tripling the seven he made for the same team in the same league in 2022. His minutes played in NEXT Pro rose from 247 in his professional debut in 2022, to 1,408 in 2023 across 15 starts and five appearances as a substitute.
The 17-year-old played the full 90 minutes on nine occasions for NYCFC II last season, but also suffered a bit, appearing in 13 of NYCFC II’s 15 losses on the season (though three of those losses were draws, but NEXT Pro has no draws and does penalty shootouts, so *shrug*).
NYCFC II were and are a young team full of inexperienced academy players, so results could be up and down as promising teenagers, McFarlane included, gain professional experience and feel the growing pains to be expected of a 16-now-17-year-old. Those minutes and ups and downs in 2023 should benefit McFarlane in his age-17 season in 2024.
A player of international interest
Beyond his aspirations to break through with NYCFC on the club side, McFarlane looks to have a bright international future. He’s been a regular with the England U17 squad and is actually now provisionally cap-tied to England due to his participation in UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualification in November.
McFarlane’s youth career had been split between England and the United States, with the Basildon, England native playing for the United States as recently as June 2023 during a U-16 tournament in Japan, alongside three of his teenaged NYCFC teammates. McFarlane moved to New York when he was three, so it’s an intriguing dual-national situation to monitor as his career develops.
He’s also been a rumored player of interest to prestigious international clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich, with transfer expert Fabrizio Romano in December 2022 mysteriously posting, then deleting, a tweet claiming McFarlane signed a new contract to “stay at City Group” after turning down advances from interested German clubs.
The next Homegrown to break through?
Left back is one of the thinnest positions on the NYCFC depth chart, and McFarlane appears to be the most natural back-up option to apparent starter and recent contract extension recipient Kevin O’Toole.
That may not mean McFarlane jumps right in if O’Toole were to be injured, unavailable, or falter, but he’s certainly in as good a position to get a chance as anyone. NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing has trusted him enough to put him on the MLS club’s bench a handful of times, and as McFarlane continues to mature and gains more experience in MLS NEXT Pro, it feels inevitable he will try to break NYCFC’s recent dry spell of Homegrown players breaking through with the first team.
While both Samuel Owusu (one appearance, 11 minutes) and Nico Benalcázar (one appearance, nine minutes) were Homegrown signings who made their NYCFC debuts in 2022 and 2023, respectively, those two players barely featured for New York City and are no longer with the team as of 2024.
McFarlane might look more to Joe Scally as a Homegrown role model, another teen fullback from Long Island who was also in-demand in Europe and had a bright national team future ahead. Scally made his MLS debut at 17, the same age McFarlane is this season, while making seven appearances total for NYCFC before leaving for Borussia Mönchengladbach. How will McFarlane’s path compare?