Names Have Changed: No Concern For NYCFC

The concern for NYCFC during their pre season schedule, as they prepare for the opening of the 2023 MLS season next month, is a different look, though, an overhaul of their roster is not their fault.

Due to lucrative international league opportunities, and with a billion dollar Apple TV streaming contract ready to launch, the MLS and their teams will see players come and go, and nothing will stop the exodus.

The departures of key players from the NYCFC roster, is significant for a franchise that won their first MLS championship in 2021. The names are different, the chemistry, though is not a concern for coach Nick Cushing who had his interim label removed in December as he prepares for their season opener February 25th.

We spend a lot of time together,” Cushing said Thursday evening on a Zoom conference call with the media.” I am prepared for February 25. Pleased the way things have gone so far.”

But a NYCFC fan base can’t be pleased with this mass exodus of talent that includes: Heber, Anton Tinnerholm, Alexander Callens, James Sands, Maxi Morales. The loan period for Santiago Rodriguez also expired, all significant in the pitch that provided much of the attack and goals during a rough patch of matches late last season.

Spending time together is one aspect here and the distinct possibility of losing keeper Sean Johnson is very realistic. Johnson, the team captain is a key component for NYCFC, a perennial all-star who led the league in saves, who could be a part of this continuing exodus.

Johnson’s name is mentioned as a possible keeper for Toronto FC and RSC Anderlecht of the Jupiter Pro League. No doubt, Johnson, acquired in 2016, is a catalyst who provided key saves during their championship season, and in October during a failed NYCFC attempt to defend the MLS Cup.

Johnson not in goal for NYCFC will be a major blow. Luis Barraza and Cody Mizell, though capable, will provide that different look.

Cushing and NYCFC are moving along in their preparation, also with the hope that their keeper will ink his name on another contract. This will be a younger roster, a new mix working with the veterans who have been mainstays and instrumental in their last three seasons of competing for the Cup.

We will continue to prepare the team,” Cushing said about this new look. “Confident we are going to be competitive. One thing I can guarantee is we’re not going to rush into any players. It’s about being patient and an ongoing process. We’re just being patient, making sure we are prepared for the 2023 season.”

Yes, as they say patience is a virtue and NYCFC will need to adjust, though much different from a game plan of one half to the other. Then again, NYCFC saw the beginning of this exodus of a consistent roster the past few years.

And midway of last season, as NYCFC struggled to score, Alexander Castellanos, the defending MLS leading scorer and team leader, departed and packed his bags for a lucrative contract on loan to Girona FC.

Then and without Castellanos, there was an adjustment that transpired with defense and an intense attack. Cushing changed the game plan, the offense was spread in the pitch, and goals were scored.

And with six weeks to their opener, Cushing is looking at different options to fill the void of a roster that will depend on veteran midfielder Keaton Parks and defender Maxime Chanot. He is looking at the continued development of Tallis Magno, Tayvon Gray (Bronx native) and Thiago Martins.

My expectation for this group are exactly where they were last season,” Cushing said. “Very defined style, know what we are looking for. We have a lot of quality in our attack. We have flexibility. I’m completely confident we will continue to be the team we are and continue to attack.”

Cushing added, “We have a really competitive roster as it stands now. As a group, as a coaching staff, confident we will be effective.”

Again, that reflects also on the veterans and this pre season slate of matches will determine more as to the makeup of this NYCFC roster. NYCFC will have decisions and perhaps many during the course of their long season. Perhaps more changes will come as they attempt to overcome an October MLS Eastern division playoff loss to their rivals in Philadelphia.

We are ready for it,” Parks said on the Zoom call. “We trained every day, know what is expected of us. I know what role that entails. All confident what Nick wants. We are ready for anything.”

Parks, coming off late season injuries that cut his playing time, said he is ready to be a leader and guide the youngsters as they get acclimated to their new surroundings. And if Johnson is not in the plan, he could be anointed captain, a role that would be deserved for the veteran.

I believe I can be the connection now between the older guys and the younger guys,” he said. “ I also believe I want to be more of a leader. Giving them instruction, showing them off the field, adapting to help them to get better. We’re a championship team. We compete every year.”

Chanot has also been in the situation of an exodus, now one of those tenured with experience who could get the captain anointment. Regardless, his leadership is significant and NYCFC values his presence.

My experience and leadership on this club that’s important,” he said on the Zoom call. “Most important thing is to create the chemistry. Will try and help the younger players with my experience. Nothing will change. Since 2016, I made the right choice. I love this club so much. Most important for me is to play this season and give back in the pitch.”

He said NYCFC is part of his family and reiterated wants to make sure they win another trophy. A different roster because of this exodus of players. It’s become a recurring theme with NYCFC, though the goals are always the same of competing for the MLS Cup.

The NYCFC preseason schedule continues this week and their season opener is on the road against Nashville SC on February 25th. Their home opener in the Bronx is at Yankees Stadium, Saturday evening March 11 as they host Inter Miami CF.

Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Watch “Sports with Rich” live on Tuesday Nights at 8pm EST on The SLG Network/Youtube with Robert Rizzo Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify under The SLG Network.

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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