Winning on the road is not the most common occurrence in MLS, but New York City FC’s struggles away from home were extreme in 2023.
New York City earned just one away win in the league all season, a dismal record that has a lot to do with why they’re more than likely not returning to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
It was elimination night in Washington, D.C., but not for the team that actually lost the match. NYCFC fell 2-0 to a DC United team also fighting for its playoff life, but the win still didn’t prevent Wayne Rooney’s team from being mathematically eliminated. Rooney actually announced his departure from DCU immediately following the conclusion of the match, an abrupt postseason parting.
The season is not over for NYCFC, as they still cling to hope that every other relevant result will go their way elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, and they’ll have a chance to win on Decision Day and still qualify for the postseason.
Realistically, though, the team’s playoff dreams died and were buried in these two back-to-back disappointing results away from home, first with the stoppage-time equalizer off a corner kick that cost them two points against Inter Miami CF, then with this limp performance against DC United that saw them thoroughly outplayed by a team that had been winless in its last six matches.
This is not some new deficiency popping up late in the season to derail the team’s playoff hopes. NYCFC have been Jekyll and Hyde-like with their performance fluctuations from home and away all season long, and their one road win came on a Matías Pellegrini overhead kick up in Montréal.
When asked about the team’s road struggles this season following the loss in DC, NYCFC coach Nick Cushing said “We’re well aware that our away record is damaging and is a big contributor to where we are on the table. With a young group and a very transient group, it’s difficult to get consistency in all the different environments. You see today, it’s a very physical environment, it’s a team that’s going to make the game messy at times, and we struggled with that in the first half. The nature of trying to be consistent with inconsistency is very difficult.”
One thing that has been consistently consistent throughout the season: NYCFC have not picked up nearly enough points from their away games, no matter who has been in their Starting XI.
Hopes that all the new additions made to the roster this summer would help the team fix its away struggles have not been fulfilled. The team’s most ineffective, uninspiring performances have all come on the road—think the loss at Toronto, or the regular season loss at Cincinnati, or both of their road Hudson River Derby losses to the Red Bulls, or even this most recent setback in the nation’s capital.
Cushing’s response when discussing NYCFC’s away struggles also included saying his team “…probably should be six points better from Atlanta, Columbus, Miami,” the three matches in which NYCFC conceded stoppage-time equalizers that robbed them of away victories. Yet while those points dropped at the end of matches stand out as particularly gut-wrenching and glaring, they’re only microcosms of a bigger problem.
This 2023 team never figured out the right formula for grinding out enough positive results away from home. New personnel, different formations, win-or-go-home playoff mindsets—none of those things added up to more than one single solitary away win in MLS this season.
There will be plenty of blame to go around and fingers to be pointed if and when NYCFC are finally, officially ruled out of the MLS Cup Playoffs, but one deficiency within the team that will certainly need to be addressed in 2024 is how they approach playing away from home.
Teams don’t have to be great on the road to be successful in MLS, but even with this new extra-forgiving playoff format that sees 18 of the 29 teams in MLS qualify, NYCFC’s inability to perform positively outside of the Tri-State Area cost them dearly over the course of the marathon-length MLS season. The many setbacks suffered in away games in 2023 are a major reason why Decision Day will likely be the end of the road for this NYCFC season.