The faces were different Saturday evening when NYCFC went in the pitch for the first time this season at Yankee Stadium. The offseason of departures provides a different look and the avid fan would identify the names.
And these new faces will be challenged as they have been in the early going. Coach Nick Cushing is also acclimating to the transition of a new roster, a task in his first full year at the helm. This first home match had to play to the pleasure of a fan base that is supportive
But the keeper, Sean Johnson, a perennial All-Star and fan favorite, took his clean sheet records to Toronto, a difficult departure it was. The loyal fan base began their transition with a new name in the net, Luis Barraza, who earned his job in the pre season.
Those loyal fans of NYCFC, 24,489, quickly jumped on the bandwagon of those new faces. They want to know who they are in the pitch, so, it will take time to adapt with a mix of veterans and younger players assembled on this roster as NYCFC attempts to make another playoff run in October.
Barraza had three saves in his Yankee Stadium debut, a fourth career clean sheet, as NYCFC recorded a 1-0 win over Inter Miami CF and improved to 6-0-2 in home openers at Yankee Stadium. However, this new roster was held again to one goal as was the situation last week when NYCFC (1-1-1, 4 points) recorded a tie.
Regardless, lack of scoring can be a concern in a league that thrives on offense. Santiago Rodriguez accounted for the lone goal, a free kick that was deflected in by an opposing defender in the first half. Too early to say if goals will be difficult to find, and it could take some time because there are a lot of different faces in the pitch, but overall this was a perfect welcome home for NYCFC and their fans.
“There were some small tactical things we can improve on, which can give us more control in the game for longer moments,” Cushing said. “I was most pleased with how aggressively we came out in the second half. That is how we want to start our games, especially here in front of our home fans.”
True, Miami was perfect in their first two matches and they are a team that will be difficult in the league, but that first half was flat. The goal was not perfect, though the outcome said otherwise because NYCFC wanted this win for their fans.
The coach and his team will go back to work, look to improve, and make those early season adjustments when they return home and oppose D.C. United in an Eastern divisional matchup next Saturday evening. Plenty of time to get the offense moving but winning matches at home are important.
Last season, when NYCFC attempted to defend their first MLS Championship, lack of wins at home posed a concern. In this league, more wins at home, in and out of the division can determine home field advantage and positioning in the MLS postseason bracket.
“We have to be ruthless in front of goal,” Cushing said. “If we’re going to be a top top team, we have to score the goals. We have to kill the games. We had a preseason game against Portland in California where we carried 75 percent of the ball, and we lose one-nil on a set play because we don’t score the goal.”
It was a similar situation in Chicago. NYCFC could have scored another goal and took control then, but they defended well. Against Miami there were dozens of opportunities to score another goal and they defended well. That has been the difference but there is that concern. Despite the perfect type of win at home, NYCFC defended but those goals have to find the net.
And this rabid fan base is willing to be patient. They know Barraza is a new kid in town, Johnson was the fan favorite, but in this league there is a constant changing of the guard as players come and go and take lucrative opportunities with free agency or sent on loan to international leagues.
Barraza, though, is no longer a backup to Johnson and there was that perfect welcome that goes along with the responsibility of keeping these matches close with an offense that is obviously struggling.
“I knew it was going to be a good atmosphere and good energy and I was actually excited and looking forward to the game,” he said. “Like I said it was important for us to get the three points but also a clean sheet. It’s going to help the guys build some confidence and now head into D.C. with good confidence.”
Barraza said, “We did a really good job of playing when we had to play and going along when we had to go along and that’s a sign of a young team that’s maturing..”
The coach reiterated, “I think if you look at last year we didn’t start the season so well on the road. It’s pretty similar to this year, and then we go and win the home opener and it just gives you that life. “
It’s early in the season, and for NYCFC, perhaps the rhythm is still not there with this transition of new players. Cushing said his team is able to kill teams off, so the fans will expect more of those goals to come. In the meantime, they can look at this home opener as a perfect welcome.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and co-host Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube