NYCFC continued their unbeaten streak against Atlanta United Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, gaining a point with a 1-1 draw in the MLS Eastern Conference standings, but it was not a win.
Coach Nick Cushing and his team were almost there to get the three points, essential in this league that thrives on scoring. NYCFC started slow again and that has become a recurring issue as they began a three-game homestand of Saturday evening matches in the Bronx and across town at Citi Field.
Regardless of the outcome, NYCFC has prevailed over Atlanta in their last six meetings dating back to September 25, 2009, an accomplishment against a division opponent. Overall, though, in many ways this is a team still trying to find an identity.
The goals have been hard to find in the pitch, an issue of sorts. It’s their persistent attack that frustrates opponents, all good signs.to counter their lack of scoring and failure to get those crucial points in the standings.
A concern for coach Cushing for sure. He continues to emphasize getting wins at home, as NYCFC has two wins and a draw at Yankee Stadium. Last year is in the past when there was a failure to get those crucial wins on the road. That was detrimental in their quest for a higher seed in the conference and MLS playoffs.
Perhaps, NYCFC is a team trying to find themselves with a nucleus of young talent mixed with a few veterans. They are looking for answers, a team no longer with a viable scoring threat that averaged three goals per match in the Bronx last year.
“We have three home games now and if we have a lot of these games where we tie then they are missed opportunities,” Cushing said. “So, we accept it and look at where we can improve and prepare for next week.”
Yes, they missed those opportunities. There were red cards, player substitutions, injury stoppages, and numerous delays of video reviews that caused officials to add an extra 10 minutes onto the end of the second half. Neither team could take advantage of the extra time.
NYCFC (2-2-2, 9 points) applied the pressure in those extra minutes, Again, though, it was a struggle to find that decisive goal for the three points.
Next week at Citi Field, the alternative home, they will be looking to net more than one goal against another Eastern division opponent, a Nashville SC team that can score and apply the pressure with their good defense. This could still be a work in progress for NYCFC, but their locker room is confident those three points will eventually be consistent.
Defender Mitja Llenic, their 18-year old new addition, signed from Slovenian side NK, assisted Gabriel Pereira with the equalizer in the 72nd minute, his first assist, and played a full 90 minutes. He recorded one shot and a 75% accurate pass percentage in addition to his first ever assist.
“We wanted the three points,” he said. “That was the primary goal. I think we performed well, we got the goal from set piece so we need to improve there. A point is good but when we are home we always try for the three points.”
So as NYCFC approaches another week of preparation, and with a coach looking for answers, what is the resolution? From all standards, this was a team with expectations and despite the numerous departures of talent from their 2021 championship year, scoring those precious goals was going to be a part of their fixture.
“We got a foothold on the ball as the game went,” Cushing said. “We did not create enough opportunities in the big moments ,where we got into good areas of the pitch to create clean chances. We know we have to improve at that. We know we have to continue to work with our team to know that when we have the momentum and control of the game. I don’t think we did that enough tonight.”
Opportunities that, Cushing said, have to get better. He’s satisfied with the defense and transition, though that persistent ability to notch a winning goal has been hard to find. They have another week to work on those adjustments, then again this MLS schedule is rigorous as others continue to compile those three points.
“I am content with the performance,” Cushing said. “But we know we have another level within us. The guys are frustrated in there (locker room )because we want to win in front of our home fans. We are not that far away but we know we have got work to do.”
Definitely not in that panic mode, and a sense the goals will be more consistent. However, in this league a point is not enough.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter @Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso