Balancing continuity and cohesion against the urgent need to integrate the most new signings New York City FC has ever made in a single summer transfer window is not an easy task.
It’s a real-time chemistry experiment taking place while NYCFC’s season is on the line, and it got off to an extremely ugly start against Minnesota United FC at Citi Field. NYCFC returned from a 17-day Leagues Cup hiatus with a costly 0-2 loss to the Loons that further dimmed the team’s hopes of making a late-season run back to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
This was supposed to be a new, improved version of NYCFC, with six exciting summer signings now at head coach Nick Cushing’s disposal. Instead, the new-look NYCFC’s performance was frustratingly familiar, mirroring many of the team’s draws and losses from this months-long stretch that’s seen the team earn just two wins from their last 20 matches in all competitions.
Chances aplenty were again created by the NYCFC attack, as per FotMob, the Boys in
Blue Green generated four “big chances” (and missed them all) from their 19 total shots, an attacking display that was good for 2.12 expected goals (xG), dwarfing Minnesota’s 0.97 xG and one single “big chance.”
The team’s striker situation, and lack of a true striker on the 2023 roster, has been a season-long talking point. Sporting director David Lee waited and waited and eventually landed his new No 9 in Mounsef Bakrar, but the timing of his arrival has not set the 22-year-old Algerian or his new team up for immediate success.
Bakrar jumped right into NYCFC’s ill-fated Leagues Cup run after having last played for his previous club, NK Istra in Croatia, way back on May 27th. Yes, Bakrar scored in his first start against lowly Toronto FC, but it’s been a struggle in his two subsequent starts against the Red Bulls and Minnesota, with this latest loss to the Loons glaring for just how many chances The Bakman failed to convert.
NYCFC’s new striker has been put in an untenable position by his bosses, as they’ve pinned their goal-scoring hopes on a player still trying to acclimate to a new style of play, a slew of new teammates, a new league, and a new country.
This exact same predicament is shared by multiple of the team’s new signings, and could have been avoided had NYCFC addressed its glaring transfer needs earlier in what has become a miserable 2023 season.
The new NYCFC signings all may come good, and many of them showed promising signs against Minnesota.
Birk Risa, heralded as the replacement for Alexander Callens, made his much-anticipated debut partnered in central defense with Thiago Martins in a four-man back line, and showed off his long-passing abilities on multiple occasions, regularly picking out useful diagonal passes to teammates.
Julián Fernández had flashes of promise playing wide right, and looked to have drawn a late penalty after a nice sequence of interplay with his fellow Argentine Maxi Moralez, though it was overturned after VAR determined no foul occurred.
Speaking of Maxi, his game didn’t look much different than it did at the end of the 2022 season when he was dragging NYCFC back to another Eastern Conference Final. Andrés Perea did his best to live up to the Alex Ring comparisons his new manager dropped on him while becoming the rare NYCFC player to be subbed on for an ineffective James Sands.
Only Alonso Martínez was forced to wait until the next match day to make his debut, but no matter how many new players Cushing threw into the mix while searching for a spark for his squad, the performance and the result remained mostly the same.
It was always asking a lot to expect this new crop of talent to immediately send NYCFC rocketing back up the Eastern Conference table. The work required to get this group of new players on the same page with the rest of the squad falls on the shoulders of Cushing and his assistants, and thus far, it has not looked like much has changed.
The chemistry experiment hasn’t completely blown up in NYCFC and Cushing’s faces just yet. They still have nine more matches, and could, hypothetically, catch fire and make an improbable run back to cup contention.
Based on this dispiriting first performance immediately following a lengthy spell on the training pitch, though, it’s hard to feel confident that this summer’s roster makeover will soon translate to the winning streak necessary to extend NYCFC’s streak of seven seasons qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs.