It was the inaugural opener of the 2023 Leagues Cup at Citi Field Sunday evening and for NYCFC it amounted to one goal scored against Atlas Futbol Club. This is the MLS version of a tournament that is geared towards added exposure for the league.
And similar to their MLS season, that has NYCFC fighting for playoff position, they managed one goal. Another goal for NYCFC was disallowed due to offsides that went to video review and Atlas managed to sneak away with a 1-0 win.
They will do it again Wednesday evening at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, a second match that NYCFC needs a clean win to advance in this tournament. The concept works because the players are all in on this hiatus of the MLS season, except NYCFC continues their struggle to score.
Regardless, NYCFC has one win in their last 17 matches, more so, when they resume league play next month for their final stretch it will be a struggle to reach the postseason as one of nine seeds in the Eastern Conference. This was the second match against NYCFC in less than a year for the LIGA MX-based team. Last year at Yankee Stadium, NYCFC, with a 2-0 win, took silverware in the Campeones Cup.
Though, there were some encouraging signs for NYCFC in the first of two Leagues Cup group stage matches. NYCFC kept an advantage in possession (66.6%), total passes (595), passing accuracy (86.9%), duels won (65), and saves (4).
But a goal that was disallowed late in the match had a good number of 22,267 NYCFC supporters disappointed. Justin Haak, substituted in the 81st minute, thought he had the equalizer after a bouncing ball in the box landed at his feet and fired a low shot past the goalkeeper.
It didn’t become the second goal in three matches for the homegrown player, rather more of what has become another tough loss for NYCFC, though not an MLS loss that would have been more significant to coach Nick Cushing and his team.
“What do you want me to say? It’s a goal,” said Cushing. “I understand there’s a rules document. I get it. This is a different competition, but it’s a goal. And the fact that we watched it for about five minutes is crazy. I don’t to understand the rules anymore. Because it’s clear and obvious. It’s not clear and obvious. It’s five minutes. It’s a goal. I think it’s really disappointing because the competition is an excellent competition.”
Cushing said both leagues have put plenty of resources and time into this Leagues Cup. He placed emphasis that the competition was spoiled because an obvious goal to him was disallowed.
Nevertheless, NYCFC continues their struggle to score. They fell behind in the seventh minute of play and struggled to find the open net. To their credit, as has been during this battle to take an advantage, they kept it close against an Atlas squad that has a great proficiency of finding the net.
“It’s simple, we need to score goals,” Cushing said. “If we put them in the goal, I am sure people would have the perception that we have an incredible team because this was another game where we had 64% of the ball. We’re dominating teams but we’re just not scoring goals and ultimately goals win games.”
Sometimes, though, on the pitch and against competition from another league, the familiarity of this not being an MLS match can leave room for NYCFC and their lack of scoring. This time, though, Cushing said his team was different, but the results were the same. His team believes they are different and getting more opportunities, even as talent continues to depart on loan to international leagues as is standard during the MLS season.
“Of course, we expect a win, that’s the standard,” said defender Tayvon Gray. “I was disappointed today. It’s a quick turnaround. We have a game on Wednesday. We need to be focused. They (Atlas) are a good team. They obviously dominate their league. I played them before. They play with a different coding, where they had two nines.”
He mentioned how Atlas players drop in and run in from behind, thus making it more difficult to stop their constant approach to the goal. Gray did not comment about the NYCFC goal that was not allowed and became the deciding outcome.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t create goal chances,” Cushing said. “We’ve got to be better on set plays. But it’s a process with this team. We’re going through that process. It’s painful but one thing I can say to everybody, and the fans, is tomorrow they’ll be working like animals in the training facility. I am sure of that.”
But it was one goal that was not allowed that made a difference in this opening contest of the Leagues Cup.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso