There were minor adjustments early Sunday evening at Yankee Stadium when NYCFC went to the pitch and resumed MLS play after a long 21-day, international break. This week, head coach Ronny Deila, who led NYCFC to their first MLS Cup last year, left his position for a lucrative opportunity to do the same in Belgium.
That move of Deila caught everyone by surprise as it came during the break and days before NYCFC would resume play in the Bronx against Colorado under interim coach Nick Cushing.
Regardless, the MLS structure sees coaches and players leave teams during the season for overseas opportunities and that could be an issue. This was no different, though, to many it was assumed Deila was content in New York and looking to defend the MLS Cup. The departure of a coach led the NYCFC hierarchy to keep the job in-house.
The players were comfortable with their new coach. Cushing has been an assistant under Deila, so any changes or adjustments to formations and chemistry would be minor.
Sunday, NYCFC was almost perfect. Cushing did not get his first win, instead a 1-1 draw earned a point in the Eastern Conference standings and a hold on first place. More so, NYCFC (7-0-2) extended their unbeaten streak to nine games and their unbeaten mark at home to seven.
In the process, keeper Sean Johnson failed to extend his clean streak (shutout) for a seventh straight game. Colorado was a challenge as NYCFC embarked on a busy slate including a Wednesday evening match against the rival Red Bulls across the Hudson River for the US Open Cup.
There was Cushing meeting the media for the first time. He has never been in the Yankee Stadium press conference room and was in awe about the history seen on walls in the room. The adjustments were minor and the coach was comfortable about the outcome in regard to the players responding.
“Not so much different because I think, two reasons, one we are mid-season and we don’t have a lot of time to start implementing new ways of playing and new ideas and also because what we have done has worked for us,” Cushing said.
It worked again as NYCFC controlled the tempo after falling behind in the 68th minute on a quick breakaway at midfield. Later in the 72nd minute, Talles Mango scored the tying goal off a cross from Maxi Moralez.
“There hasn’t been that many changes throughout the week,” Mango commented through a translator about his third goal of the season that had some acrobatic moves to it. “We have a very similar style of play that we played under Ronny (Delia). The same kind of attacking, the same defending, so there weren’t really that many changes.”
He said this was an easy transition and NYCFC was moving forward with their new coach. They are learning what the coach is asking and it may take more time, but game-by-game is important.
Cushing added the system used with Delia the past 18 months was not going to change, and perhaps that is why the transition has been smooth the past week with a sudden change at the top.
“We have a methodology in our group and it has helped us with the league position that we have got,” he said. “It was about making sure the player understands that for us consistency is key, in all of the areas, that in the way that we play and in approaching games. My job this week was preparing the team for this game and like I said all the players were exceptional this week in their application.”
And the adjustments came in the second half. Cushing asked his team to pick up their rhythm and aggression after both teams had a chess match to figure out who would be the first to score. This was no different from adjustments of his predecessor as team leading scorer Valentin Castellanos was kept away from the goal.
“I think teams know that when we play with rhythm, when we play with our intensity we can be a real special team here, and we can cause real problems and we have seen that earlier this season when we put five and four goals in,” Cushing said.
This is a mentality that NYCFC intends to continue and though they played their first game from the break with a draw, they say nothing was different.
“It was a tough situation maybe but everything that we thought about was just sticking together, doing the job, preparing ourselves for the game and I think we did this and we can keep going and see what happens,” said midfielder Alfredo Morales.
And time will tell what will happen with this quick transition of coaches. But the first game under Cushing, considering the momentum was diminished from a long break, showed NYCFC had little issue with the adjustment.
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