By Christian A Smith, Connor Donohue, Nicholas Robbins, and Stephen Attaway
The wait is over! New York soccer season kicks off tomorrow when New York City FC travels to Costa Rica to take on fellow debutantes AD San Carlos in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16.
It’s been quite the offseason full of highs and lows. But now is when all the talk ceases to matter — it’s time to see whether or not this highly stressful time period can yield immediate positive results.
A few of the guys and I have decided to get together, do our best Nostradamus impressions, and see if we can give you all a glimpse into the future as it pertains to NYCFC’s performance down south against a formidable San Carlos side.
So, without further ado…
This will be NYCFC’s first-ever appearance in the CCL after finishing first in the East last season. Seeing as there has been little in the way of roster turnover since 2019, do you expect the Boys in Blue to be a formidable side in this competition?
Connor Donohue: Formidable is a strong word, so I will say competent. I don’t expect this team to run away with any ties they may be in, but they will not be embarrassed in any of them either. Even with a new manager and possibly a new system, the minimal amount of roster turnover this team has seen in the past three seasons is unprecedented in MLS. My fear with City’s route to the final is the possible quarter-final matchup they may be in if they beat AD San Carlos. If they can beat Tigres or Allianza in the quarter-finals, the path is there to the final.
Nicholas Robbins: Last year’s roster finished first in the East, which was a strong accomplishment. There was little turnover, and the roster is still pretty strong. As for how far they will get in the competition, I can’t say I’m confident in our chances. If we get past AD San Carlos, we would face the winner of Tigres-Allianza. Tigres are a formidable opponent who are constantly one of the better teams in Mexico. Allianza are a solid side from El Salvador who could pose a threat. I think they should get through the first round. Tigres would be a tough draw.
Stephen Attaway: As we have seen throughout the regular season, NYC is a very strong side that, when playing at their best, could very well be contenders in the CCL. City has an established and experienced squad with depth for days and a tactic which has been pretty much set in stone throughout our history. The only major change is coaching staff, with Ronny Deila taking the wheel, there could be major tactical changes incoming.
Yankee Stadium is unavailable to the club for at least the first leg, forcing NYCFC to play their “home” fixture at Red Bull Arena. Putting City’s dominance at Yankee Stadium into consideration, is losing the ability to host at their normal grounds a crippling disadvantage?
Connor: Playing at Red Bull Arena isn’t ideal, but it’s nowhere close to a “crippling disadvantage.” This team has played and won at Red Bull Arena before. This team is borderline unstoppable at Yankee Stadium, but if City loses this tie, it won’t be because they played at Red Bull Arena. The game in Costa Rica will also not be played at San Carlos’s home stadium because their home field wasn’t up to CONCACAF standards. If anyone should be worried about where the games are going to be played, it should be San Carlos and not NYCFC.
Nicholas: Playing outside of Yankee Stadium for a “home” leg is a disadvantage. The small pitch size at Yankee Stadium as well as the atmosphere we bring as fans helps big time. I know fans will show up at Red Bull Arena but it wont be enough and I think the stadium atmosphere wont be there. The pitch size always helps; losing that really hurts. We are playing two road games.
Stephen: Of course the move to RBA will have a negative effect on the game. The almost certain lack of fan attendance, as well as the larger and less familiar pitch will lead to City fighting to win two separate away legs.
AD San Carlos are hardly an easy draw, despite being fellow debutantes in the CCL — they just dethroned Saprissa as Costa Rican champions. Knowing little about them as far as personnel and tactics are concerned, what do NYCFC need to do to ensure a quality performance away from home and open them up to success in the home leg?
Connor: NYCFC and knockout competitions are like oil and water. But…
The numbers say it all: NYCFC has a squad worth around $35 million on Transfermarket, while San Carlos has a squad valued at around $4 million. City just can’t shoot themselves in the foot. San Carlos will possibly be missing their best player, former Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio, and are in the middle of a disappointing start to the domestic season. Hold San Carlos in Costa Rica, possibly snag an away goal, and City will be fine in the return leg in Harrison.
Nicholas: I think NYCFC needs to get on the ball quickly and control the tempo of the game. Leaving San Carlos with anything but a two-plus goal deficit would be a great result. The boys can overcome a 1-0 result at Red Bull Arena. As long as the defense is strong and they control the game, they should be in good shape heading back “home.”
Stephen: In my eyes, the most effective strategy is to run the City style like we have for the past five years. We have an established starting team and a very established strategy. Provided that Deila does not tinker with the tactics too much, we should be able to force them to have 9-10 men behind the ball and wait for mistakes.
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi will be unavailable for selection tomorrow. With that in mind, what would your ideal lineup be and in what in formation?
Connor: I love me some Shroddy Daddy, but I’m not sure he would even start if he was healthy. I’m really interested to see if Gary Mackay-Steven will start and look to break out under his former and new manager Ronny Delia. Taty Castellanos and Jesús Medina could also start out on the right wing. I’m thinking we’re going to see either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation in this one.
AM: Alexandru Mitrita, Maxi Moralez, Gary Mackay-Steven
DM: Alexander Ring, Keaton Parks
DEF: Ronald Mattaritta, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Anton Tinnerholm
GK: Sean Johnson
Center CAM- Moralez
Right CAM- Mitrita
Left CAM- Castellanos
Stephen: As much as I would love for Isi to be available, it does make selection somewhat easier. My ideal lineup would be the 5-2-3/3-4-3 hybrid that brought us so much success last year away from home. Johnson, Chanot, Sands, Callens, Tinnerholm, Ring, Parks, Matarrita, Moralez, Heber, and Mitrita. Of course Mata and Anton would drop deep out of possession. Alternatively, I could see Taty and Heber playing in a 2-striker system with Mitrita and Moralez in support.
What is your final score predication for the first leg? What do you think the total aggregate scoreline will be after it’s all said and done?
Connor: Knowing City in knockout competitions, San Carlos is going to score first in Costa Rica. I do think City score down south and come back to Jersey tied 1-1. From there, I think City run away with it at Red Bull Arena, winning 3-0 and winning the tie 4-1.
Nicholas: 2-1 NYCFC first leg, 2-0 NYCFC second leg. Total aggregate of 4-1.
Stephen: For the away leg, I’ll go with an optimistic 2-1 loss and for the total aggregate I’ll go for 2-2 with NYC going through on away goals.
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