New York City FC settled for another frustrating draw away from home in a game they should have won, playing to a 1-1 tie with a Lionel Messi-less Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fl.
Tomas Aviles headed home Miami’s equalizer from a corner kick in the fifth of a whopping seven minutes of second-half stoppage time, negating an impressive individual goal from Santiago Rodríguez in the 77th minute, and adding to the list of late leads NYCFC have squandered during their draw-filled 2023 season.
The stoppage-time capitulation brought back flashbacks of the 2-2 draw with Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta equalizer scored at 90+5′), and to the 1-1 draw away to Columbus Crew SC (Crew equalizer scored at 90+4′ while NYCFC had a man advantage).
Three added-time equalizers conceded in one season feels like a few too many for a team with playoff and, theoretically, MLS Cup aspirations. NYCFC remain plagued by a tendency to cave to late-game pressure right when they’re on the cusp of earning big wins away from home. There have now been five matches in which NYCFC held a lead in the second half yet ended up with only a draw—at Chicago, at Atlanta, at Columbus, vs Vancouver, and now at Miami.
Despite this latest setback, NYCFC still, as of this writing, sit 8th in the Eastern Conference table and would host a one-and-done Wild Card playoff game if the season ended right now.
The newly-expanded MLS Cup Playoff format is forgiving to a fault, and this NYCFC squad seems intent on testing the limits of that forgiveness, looking to ride a league-leading 14 draws to postseason play for an eighth straight season.
If NYCFC do make it in, it will be despite troubling, detrimental traits that have dogged the team all season long and have not been eradicated during this late-season unbeaten run that extended to six straight matches in Miami.
Wasted scoring chances have been a recurring theme, and Mounsef Bakrar was the main person missing chances during a tough night in front of goal against the Herons. He had at least three great looks to score in the first half but missed them all, then was replaced in the 73rd minute when Nick Cushing decided to go striker-less after Talles Magno had to come off at halftime.
Set pieces were the big defensive weak spot early this season, and the team’s frailty on them returned at the worst possible time, with no one marking Aviles nor positioned to properly deal with the corner delivery on his goal. That was the game’s most glaring set play mistake, but NYCFC also wasted free kick after free kick with fruitless training ground routines earlier in the match.
There’s also the matter of possession and play style. Miami had 64% of the possession on the night, as NYCFC seemed to quickly abandon any intention they might have had to attempt to dominate the ball and play their pass-happy style of game.
Taking a more counterattacking, direct approach worked for NYCFC, until it didn’t. The minutes and minutes spent defending and chasing Miami around in the heat and humidity seemed to drain NYCFC, who also weren’t helped by the generous seven minutes of added time awarded by the fourth official.
Officiating is one more thing that consistently hasn’t broken NYCFC’s way this season, though it’s almost entirely outside of the team’s control. The ref problems continued against Inter Miami. Andrés Perea was a victim of a nasty challenge from Miami’s Dixon Arroyo that looked like it had the potential to trigger a VAR review for a possible red card offense, but no such review was initiated and Arroyo was given a yellow card, then quickly substituted from the match by Tata Martino.
Then there’s the matter of the seven additional minutes at the end of the match, which seemed excessive given the one goal and relatively few second-half stoppages. Nick Cushing was outspoken in his displeasure with the officiating and how his team was treated following the match, another thing that has now happened multiple times this season.
Despite these myriad recurring issues, NYCFC might very well earn one of those last two playoff spots. Other results league-wide have been largely going their way, and they close the season against two teams right near them in the table.
The table says they’re a playoff team right now, but NYCFC hasn’t consistently performed like a team worthy of that distinction. They’ve not taken advantage of opportunities to earn wins, done in by the same mistakes popping up over and over again this season.
It all adds up to make it hard to look at this team and see a true MLS Cup contender, even if the one point earned in South Florida moves the team a step closer to postseason qualification.