Another match, another draw for New York City FC.
The 1-1 deadlock with the Portland Timbers was NYCFC’s fifth straight draw, and pushed the club’s winless streak up to 12 matches across all competitions. A first trip back to the site of the team’s 2021 MLS Cup triumph stirred up the nostalgia but did not translate into a first road win of 2023, nor a first win of any kind since April 22.
The negatives of the still-ongoing winless run shouldn’t completely overshadow the positives of this particular draw, which saw a jet-lagged, depleted, heavily rotated NYCFC squad battle back to earn a point after falling behind late in the first half.
Evander curled in the opening Timbers goal in the 38th minute, and the home side kept NYCFC under pressure right up to halftime as they searched for a second. In fact, New York didn’t threaten Portland at all in the first half, registering just one shot total and zero shots on target over the first 45 minutes.
NYCFC’s attacking play picked up in the second half despite the removal of leading scorer Gabriel Pereira at halftime, which head coach Nick Cushing said after the match was due to an adductor injury.
The GP11-less side still found an equalizer in the 51st minute, thanks in part to the player who replaced Pereira. A perfect Matías Pellegrini free kick delivery got headed home by Keaton Parks to level the proceedings. This was Pellegrini’s first goal involvement since joining NYCFC back in August 2022, and also was another good headed finish from Parks, who has now scored a few of those this season.
The match was an at times open affair after NYCFC drew level, and Portland had a number of big chances to steal all three points even in the match’s last moments. New York City was spared the indignity of conceding a second backbreaking goal in stoppage time this week when the final kick of the match, a free kick from Evander, struck the outside of the post.
It’s hard to feel much excitement about a fifth consecutive draw or about the lengthy winless streak, but the number of extenuating circumstances surrounding this match also make it easy to accept taking one point home from the Pacific Northwest.
NYCFC: 8 shots, 3 on goal, 46.3% possession, 403 passes, 81.6% pass accuracy, 14 fouls
Portland: 16 shots, 7 on goal, 53.7% possession, 455 passes, 82.4% pass accuracy, 15 fouls
There were always going to be changes to the NYCFC lineup coming off the midweek trip to Atlanta, which itself came not long after the home meeting with Columbus Crew.
The biggest lineup surprise in Portland was Cushing’s choice in net, with Matt Freese replacing Luis Barraza to earn his third start since joining NYCFC, and a first start not against FC Cincinnati.
Cushing has been consistently complimentary of Barraza this season, but has also always stopped short of anointing him his out-and-out top goalkeeper. Praise for Barraza has often been followed by praise for Freese, and Freese got another chance to impress and intensify the keeper competition at Providence Park.
The results left something to be desired, as Freese seemed either fooled by, or too quick to dismiss his chances of saving Evander’s opening goal. That the NYCFC keeper didn’t even try to fully extend his arms to block Evander’s effort was something of a head-scratcher, though the strike was a quality one, and it’s likely unfair to expect Freese to make that particular save.
Freese also was loose with two rebounds late in the match, each posing a threat to the point NYCFC was desperate to hold onto. Nothing in Freese’s performance stood out as proof that he should be replacing Barraza on a more regular basis as the team’s top keeper, though it’s also looking likely that the position will remain somewhat unsettled and subject to rotation under Cushing.
A pragmatic point
The realities of NYCFC player availability make this result against the Timbers feel less disappointing than a fifth straight draw should be. Richy Ledezma was out of the squad after getting married, while James Sands and Thiago Martins remained out due to international duty and injury, respectively.
NYCFC’s defense got a boost through Maxime Chanot’s return following his international duty with Luxembourg, but the wingback positions remained in perpetual flux, as they were again rotated with Mitja Ilenič and Kevin O’Toole replacing Stephen Turnbull and Braian Cufré.
Add to all these changes the in-game development that Gabriel Pereira had to come off injured at halftime and it felt like an overdose of lineup rotation, some unavoidable and some of Nick Cushing’s choosing. That NYCFC were able to find a leveling goal despite playing the entire second half without their leading scorer is a positive.
Positive, too, was the fact that NYCFC could dig deep enough physically and mentally to see out the draw, even if it came with some scary moments at the very end.
The amount of miles the team has traveled in just seven days should not be underestimated. While it’s ultimately another result that extends the club-worst winless run, the draw with the Timbers is a solid professional point churned out by what has to be an exhausted, undermanned team.
Still desperately seeking attacking answers
Portland doubled up NYCFC in terms of expected goals (1.03 xG for Portland, 0.58 xG for NYCFC) and were the more consistently threatening attacking team on the night. NYCFC struggled to get its forward attackers into many dangerous positions, a problem that has plagued the team all season long no matter who Cushing has tried as his striker or false 9.
The trip to Portland saw Talles Magno return to the starting lineup after only being a sub in Atlanta. Talles Magno has now started three of NYCFC’s last four matches, though he’s still got no goals or assists to his name since the assist he picked up on Gabe Segal’s equalizer back on May 17.
Speaking of Segal, the Stanford and FC Koln product has been an unused substitute in four of NYCFC’s last five matches despite being one of the team’s few multi-goal scorers. In his most recent game action, Segal went 17 minutes against Columbus Crew and became the hero of the day by scoring to salvage a last-gasp draw at home.
Somewhat oddly, though, Segal remained nailed to the bench in the two matches since his star turn that day. NYCFC have at various times in those two matches needed a goal, yet no Segal. While he’s still new to the league and not a given to solve all of NYCFC’s attacking problems (which likely require addressing through the transfer window), Segal also looked to have some momentum thanks to the dramatic late goal against the Crew.
Not to give Segal another shot even as a substitute while NYCFC search for any and all answers to their goal-scoring struggles seems like an oversight. Would Segal’s inclusion have meant a win against the Timbers? No way to say, but it’s also odd to see other players still preferred as NYCFC subs while a more prolific attacker remains on the sidelines.
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Portland, Evander, 38′
NYCFC, Parks, 51′
Portland, Mabiala, yellow card, foul 50′
Portland, Bravo, yellow card, foul 70′
NYCFC, Turnbull, yellow card, foul 90′
Portland, Evander, yellow card, other, 90’+3′
Referee: Nima Saghafi
Assistant Referees: Adam Garner, Kevin Lock
Fourth Official: Katja Koroleva
VAR: Daniel Radford
Assistant VAR: Fabio Tovar