Valentin Castellanos had a goal disallowed in the first half of play at Yankee Stadium Saturday evening and the 23,000 fans of NYCFC booed the reversed call. He was later subbed in the half and received a standing ovation.
He would not get his league leading 14th goal or get another chance.
“Taty” got to the sideline and there were hugs. After NYCFC, the defending MLS Cup champions increased their unbeaten streak to 10 games at Yankee Stadium, CitiField and other venues with a 2-0 win over Inter Miami FC, Castellanos got more hugs as he exited the playing field.
Fans cheered again. Castellanos waved to the crowd as this was possibly his last appearance as a player for NYCFC at Yankee Stadium. The leading scorer in the MLS and defending 2021 MLS Golden Boot Award winner for most goals, has been linked to signing a lucrative contract and loaned to Girona FC of LaLiga in Spain.
Though the signing is not official, and NYCFC officials remained silent about losing a popular and franchise player, those cheers and hugs would indicate NYCFC will need to replace a major cog to their offensive attack.
The MLS will also lose another star player that brings a lot to the table, and because of certain by-laws, stopping Castellanos from jumping ship is permitted, though this can become an issue down the line with lucrative television deals kicking in with the MLS next year.
Castellanos quickly dressed and left Yankee Stadium without commenting about this possibly being his last match in the Bronx. As of now, and without his exit becoming official, it is assumed he will be available next Saturday evening when NYCFC travels to Montreal.
Then you heard the post match comments from Keeper Sean Johnson, four saves, 11th league leading clean sheet, his third straight.
“I think he has meant so much to the club over the years, not just with the golden boot, but with everything he’s given, his energy every single game and training session. He has given the team life, and his performances have spoken for themselves. He is a quality player. I am sure he is going to crush it wherever he is next,” he said.
Johnson said, Castellanos will always be a part of the NYCFC family. A loyal NYCFC fan base displayed signs of “Thank You Taty” and “Muchas Gracias.” They showed signs of love and support.
Certainly sounds like Valentin Castellanos will not be in the Bronx when NYCFC returns to their home base in September. In between, the team is on the road and because of Yankees baseball games they are forced to use alternative home venues in Flushing at Citi Field and across the Hudson River at Red Bulls Arena.
I asked coach Nick Cushing about removing Castellanos from the match. He would not commit to staging this as his swan song in the Bronx, though again all signs appear to say otherwise.
“I think we got tired in general,” he said. “I think we had two really intense games, Dallas and the Red Bulls. The heat this week in training has been really difficult, so the likes of Maxi (Moralez). Taty and Nico Acevedo, you know, Talles Magno, I thought we just looked like the heat took its toll on us.”
The coach was avoiding the question, in the meantime all week the buzz has been Castellanos is leaving town and NYCFC was preparing to adjust. They can find other strikers that can attack and score.
Moralez scored his first regular season goal since October 23. He slipped past a defender on the right side of the box and scored on a rebound from a tough angle.
Yet, this is not Valentin Castellanos. And NYCFC fans have become accustomed to their top scorer as the difference maker. Cushing referred to Hebner who replaced Castellanos and scored a goal.
“Recruiting is an ongoing thing for us,” Cushing said. “We’re looking all over the team, all over the world, and continually to make sure that if we do bring a player in, it’s to strengthen our team.”
But you can’t find a scoring threat like Castellanos around a local corner in the Bronx. Or find another scorer like him around the vast world of global soccer.
He is one of a kind and NYCFC will face the inevitable in a few days of losing a franchise player. In the meantime, there is business to continue as NYCFC is in a tough first place Eastern Conference first place battle with Philadelphia, Montreal, and the Red Bulls.
“Think people will always remember that whether he is here or in another part of the world, he is Taty Castellanos and he is New York,” Cushing said.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com Watch “Sports with Rich” live on Tuesday Nights at 10pm EST on The SLG Network/Youtube with Robert Rizzo Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify under The SLG Network.