New York City FC are in desperate need of an attacking spark. Their loss in Houston was uncharacteristically tame, with NYCFC registering just one shot on target and producing a mere 0.4 expected goals. That’s been the norm in 2023 away from Yankee Stadium, with only one road goal scored across three winless matches.
A fourth away game approaches in New England against the current Eastern Conference leaders, and Nick Cushing’s team will be be looking for across-the-board improvement on what they produced against the Dynamo. NYCFC needs to create more chances, take more shots, score more goals–might all those needs dictate at least one personnel change? Cushing has seemed to settle on a front four of Talles Magno, Santiago Rodríguez, Gabriel Pereira, and Matías Pellegrini, but the arrival of Richy Ledezma offers Cushing new possibilities as he looks to help his team generate more offense.
Ledezma made his NYCFC debut as a sub in Houston after covertly training with the team all week leading up to his Friday unveiling. During his pre-New England press conference, I asked Cushing what he’d seen from Ledezma since arrival that might set him apart from his fellow NYCFC attackers. The NYCFC manager was full of praise for the 22-year-old PSV Eindhoven-by-way-of-Real Salt Lake loanee, saying of Ledezma:
“What he will bring is real technical ability, a really good understanding of how we play, our style, because he’s come from a team where it’s very similar to the way we play: Very positional, play between the lines, create space for each other, get on the ball, and go and attack the game. Offensively, he can bring us a lot…He’s for sure going to improve us.”
Caveats apply that this Cushing praise, and NYCFC’s obvious need for at least a slight reshuffle post-Houston, does not guarantee that Ledezma will find himself in the Starting XI at Gillette Stadium. Yet the positive first impression Ledezma has made on his new manager, combined with that glaring need for some fresh attacking ideas, seem to make Ledezma a prime candidate to graduate from sub to starter. Yes he is still new to life at NYCFC, and he may not be deemed fit enough to put in a lengthy starter’s shift, particularly on the unforgiving turf field they play on up in Foxboro. But if a shuffle of the attacking deck is what Cushing wants to try to breathe life into NYCFC, Ledezma looks like the exact kind of dangerous creative player worth trying.
If Ledezma does slot in from the start, it would seem likely to be at the expense of one of two players: Matías Pellegrini or Gabriel Pereira. While Pellegrini has shown himself to be a hard-working wide player who fits the mold of two-way wingers NYCFC has long preferred, he’s yet to click with Talles Magno or Santiago Rodríguez to produce goals or assists. Pellegrini was noticeably quiet throughout the Houston match, and might be due for a rest, or a new chance to make an impact as a substitute.
Pereira was a breakout player in 2022 and is also responsible for the only goal NYCFC has scored outside of Yankee Stadium this season. That goal came back on Matchday 2 in Chicago, but Gabi’s performances have dipped since that night at Soldier Field. The new owner of the No 11 shirt has been unable (save for a nice assist to Santi) to leave much of a mark in any of the last three matches. He, like Pellegrini, could be asked to sit and make way as Richy Ledezma enters to try to open up the stagnated NYCFC attack.
Cushing has said he views Ledezma as a No 10, so if Ledezma does start, a first guess at a lineup would include him in the middle with Santi shifted wide left. Talles Magno continues as the “striker,” though he and Santi likely will drift wherever they please if it means they can possess the ball and dribble, preferably forward towards Djordje Petrovic’s goal. In this setup, I’d think Gabriel Pereira will remain the starter on the right, as this will still keep the core group of NYCFC’s most talented attackers together from the onset.
Ledezma would enter looking to translate his technical ability and comfort passing it around in tight spaces into some new attacking chemistry with Talles, Santi, and Pereira. Familiarity won’t be on Ledezma’s side as he’ll be coming off just around two weeks of training with his new team. Regardless though, it’s clear from listening to his manager that NYCFC has a lot of belief in Ledezma and think he will be a part of the solution to the team’s attacking inconsistencies.
Ledezma as a starter would also face the prospect of developing a connection and understanding with his two likely central midfield partners, fellow Americans Keaton Parks and James Sands. That all-American central trio sure sounds promising on paper, but will it be the right setup to handle Carles Gil, Noel Buck, and the rest of the red-hot New England Revolution? Below is just one potential Starting XI that has Ledezma in it that Cushing could send out as he looks for a first 2023 win away from home.