It’s Game Day, and New York City FC are hosting Inter Miami CF at
Red Bull Arena Citi Field in the First Round of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. Confused? Didn’t think so, but maybe somebody should explain to Miami head coach Phil Neville that Queens is a part of New York City and that the team’s bus driver will know how to get there.
This is NYCFC’s seventh consecutive appearance in the postseason. The club has a poor record in the playoffs until last year, when a comprehensive 2-0 win over Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium proved that New York City could win high-pressure games against tough opponents and set the stage for NYCFC’s run to the 2021 MLS title.
Officially, this is Miami’s second time in the playoffs: David Beckham’s shiny pink toy made it to the play-in round during the COVID-shortened 2020 season after finishing the year in 10th place, where they were beaten 3-0 by Nashville SC.
The head-to-head between the two clubs is overwhelmingly in NYCFC’s favor: The Pigeons have five wins out of six games played, with 13 goals scored and just six allowed. But Signing Bonus CF won the most recent matchup in heartbreaking fashion when they came from behind thanks to two goals from NYCFC-killer Alejandro Pozuelo. The midfielder has the unfortunate ability to stick a dagger in the collective heart of NYCFC, but a recent injury might limit his time on the field. (More on that below.)
Match: NYCFC vs Inter Miami, 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs First Round
Date and Time: Monday, October 17, 7 pm ET
Venue: Citi Field
Bruce Arena Forecast: Chance of rain, breezy, humid, 63˚F/17˚C
Watch: Fox Sports, Fox Deportes
Listen: English and Spanish broadcasts on NYCFC Radio
• Player availability: Three NYCFC players were injured in the Decision Day win over Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Tayvon Gray, Alfredo Morales, and Talles Magno, all had to be subbed off. Alfredo Morales (calf) has been ruled out for this game, while Gray (foot) and Talles Magno (shoulder) are questionable. In his pregame press conference, interim head coach Nick Cushing said that Gray and Talles Magno are recovering quickly, but in the chess game that is the injury report we won’t know their status until the lineup card is released shortly before the start of the match.
• How will Cushing line up his team? The smart money is on a back three with Alex Callens, Maxime Chanot, and Thiago Martins. The veteran center backs are a formidable defensive line that is calm in possession and quick in recovery. NYCFC are 4-0 since Cushing started playing the three together, with just two goals allowed: The foundation of New York City’s strong run of form is their defense.
• Will Kevin O’Toole once again get the start? O’Toole spent most of the season playing for NYCFC II in MLS NEXT Pro, but he was impressive in his debut against Atlas FC in the Campeones Cup, and has held on to his place in the Starting XI since then.
• The attack is more of a question mark, especially if Talles Magno doesn’t start. Héber will likely get the nod, with Thiago an option off the bench.
• The upshot of an underperforming striker? The team doesn’t miss his goal production if he’s unavailable to play. The eight goals NYCFC have scored in their four-game winning have come from six players — and only Callens has scored more than once.
• No matter who is up top, expect NYCFC to make the most out of their set pieces. Writing for Hudson River Blue, Anthony McKenna explained how goals from set pieces are the key to New York City’s Playoff run, and account for three of the eight goals the team have scored in their current winning streak.
• Also notable: Inter Miami have given up the fourth-most number of set pieces in MLS.
• Heading to Citi Field? According to NYCFC radio announcer Roberto Abramowitz, over 18,000 tickets were sold as of yesterday. It’s hard to say if the rain will limit the Fan Fest outside Citi Field, and Los Templados plan to hold their rally inside the concourse.
• Inter Miami are being guarded about their injury report. The team was without Pozuleo and attacker Leo Campana when they faced CF Montréal on Decision Day, and it showed: The Cabana Boys were toothless in attack, losing 3-1. Pozuelo (groin) is expected to suit up for Miami, but it’s unclear if he can go the full 90 minutes. Campana (thigh) is doubtful.
• Pozuelo is a danger to New York City. The attacking midfielder has faced NYCFC a total of 12 times playing for Toronto FC and Inter Miami; he has scored nine goals and provided five assists. If NYCFC are to win they will need to shut him down. Read more about him in our scouting report.
• Gonzalo Higuaín, aka the Most Interesting Striker in the World, is in exceptional form, scoring one game-winning goal after another. But the aging forward needs service if he is to score: No Pozuelo, no party.
• Miami’s attack didn’t come cheap: The season’s final salaries were released today and Higuaín ($5,793,750), Pozuelo ($4,693,000), and Rodolfo Pizarro ($3,350,000) make a combined $13,836,750. That’s considerably more than NYCFC’s entire payroll of $11.5 million.
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