Style points were not plentiful, but New York City FC still emerged victorious in their home opener, topping Inter Miami CF 1-0 thanks to a Christopher McVey own goal.
Despite that Miami blunder accounting for all the scoring on the night, there were clear signs of progress for the NYCFC attack. That the Starting XI included recently re-arrived Designated Player No 10, Santiago Rodríguez, itself represented progress from Nashville SC and Chicago Fire.
Santi’s first 2023 start was a far better showing than his cameo in Chicago, and a building block as he acclimatizes to life with this new version of NYCFC. He was back to his chance-creating ways, setting up four big chances on the night and taking three shots of his own. While he had no goals or assists to show for his efforts, it was his dangerous dead-ball delivery that forced Miami’s McVey into the match-deciding error.
Miami put in a much better performance at Yankee Stadium than they did at Citi Field in October in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but the Herons still have yet to score an away goal or earn any points against NYCFC in their three trips north. Newly-arrived striker Josef Martinez thought he’d given the away side a breakthrough in the 20th minute, but he was in an offside position while nutmegging Luis Barraza.
NYCFC created a number of good scoring chances throughout, and had an offside goal of their own by birthday boy Matías Pellegrini rudely (but correctly) disallowed in the 23rd minute. The Pigeons turned up the pressure on their bird-nickname counterparts early in the second half while looking to expand their lead, with both Santiago Rodríguez and Keaton Parks failing to convert good chances. That they never found another goal was due in large part to crucial saves made by Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender, the standout player of the match for the visitors.
The home cooking of Yankee Soccer Stadium still tastes great to NYCFC, as they remain unbeaten in home openers since inception and now have a staggering 57-17-1 (W-D-L) record in their last 81 regular season MLS matches played in the Bronx.
NYCFC: 13 shots, 7 on goal, 43.1 possession, 410 passes, 80.5 accuracy, 12 fouls
Miami: 6 shots, 3 on goal, 56.9 possession, 543 passes, 78.8 accuracy, 15 fouls
Parks-Sands were masterful in the middle
Keaton Parks and James Sands had standout showings as their new-yet-old midfield partnership continues to gel. Parks accounted for the most expected goals (xG) in the match and was front-and-center in a few of the best NYCFC attacking moments of the night. In the 17th minute, Parks produced a great ball over the top into the paths of both Talles Magno and Gabriel Pereira, with neither able to redirect toward goal. Parks arguably should have scored in the 55th minute, as he was played in nicely by Santi only to fire just wide of the near post.
For James Sands, he consistently disrupted any hope Miami had of playing through the middle. Sands had a match-high four interceptions, won the second-most tackles on the night, and in general seemed to be wherever NYCFC needed him when it came time to stop Miami’s progress. While the attacking players are still working on getting the goals to start flowing, the center of the park should be far down the list of NYCFC concerns thanks to the solid Parks-Sands combination.
The end of “Left Winger Roulette”?
NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing has started three different players in the left midfielder/winger role in the season’s first three games, but that experimentation might be over after the home opener, at least temporarily.
Cushing was full of praise for Matías Pellegrini after the match, saying “His work rate was incredible…I thought he was one of our best players today.” Pellegrini had a lot of different things to consider for this home opener. The match was on his birthday; it was against the team that signed him as a Designated Player back in 2019 (while breaking all those MLS roster rules); it was his first start for NYCFC at Yankee Stadium; and it was his first start out on the left after being asked to be the attacking central midfielder in the first two matches of 2023.
He put in a hard-working, high-effort shift that also almost resulted in his first goal for NYCFC (ruled out for offside). Pellegrini won the most duels in the match and also drew the most fouls, seeming to excel at exactly what Cushing said he was looking for from his preferred player on the left: maintaining possession, playing with a high work rate, and being smart with the ball.
Talles Magno may ultimately be the long-term left-side answer for NYCFC (if a true No 9 ever gets signed), but it looks like the combination of Pellegrini and substitute Andres Jasson is Cushing’s current preference on that side of the field. Jasson put in a good 20 or so minutes off the bench, looking like a threat to set up a second goal and drawing fouls as he usually does. As for Thiago? He went from top of the depth chart in Match 1 to an unused substitute in Match 3.
Striker? What striker?
Another quiet attacking night for Talles Magno, one that saw him substituted for defensive midfielder Alfredo Morales in a late tactical switch meant to see out the clean sheet. It’s unfair to say he had a bad game, as he made no glaring errors and generally was a positive force in possession. Yet through three matches Talles Magno has not made his presence felt in any real significant way for NYCFC. He’s not putting shots on target or getting into particularly dangerous positions with any regularity, and still seems to often drift out of his center-forward position to collect the ball, either out wide or deeper in the midfield.
His fit in the role of “striker” continues to look uncomfortable and ineffective, and it’s hard to find signs of a breakthrough waiting right around the corner. A new striker signing doesn’t seem right around the corner at this point, either, so Magno will likely to get more and more chances to make this seemingly unworkable “striker” situation actually work.
NYCFC, Own goal (Christopher McVey) 36’
Miami, Franco Negri yellow card 6’,
NYCFC, Braian Cufre yellow card 32’
Miami, Jean Mota, yellow card 47’
Miami, DeAndre Yedlin, yellow card 51’
NYCFC, Mitja Ilenic, yellow card 53’
Miami, Sergii Kryvstov, yellow card 57’
NYCFC, Matias Pellegrini, yellow card 70’
NYCFC, Tayvon Gray, yellow card 77’
Referee: Lukas Szpala
Assistant Referees: Jose Da Silva, Ian McKay
Fourth Official: Pierre-Luc Lauziere
VAR Referee: Daniel Radford
Assistant VAR Referee: Mike Kampmeinert