Sunday evening at Citi Field, NYCFC again had their chances against Minnesota United. Again, though, as they resumed their MLS season after a three-week hiatus because of the Leagues Cup, those chances did not lead to the beginning of must wins. Minnesota got their chances in a 2-0 win and put a setback on a continued NYCFC push to reach the postseason.
NYCFC is at the critical juncture to make that playoff push. Coach Nick Cushing knows there is an urgency after his squad saw an early elimination from the Leagues Cup that gave them more time to regroup. Seven of their last nine MLS matches have resulted in ties, but at Citi Field there has been success with 87 percent of their goals scored at their second home.
Though, again, the goals were hard to find with a persistent attack in the first half that saw both teams going scoreless. Minnesota is also in the playoff hunt and got a needed win that pushed them up a notch in the Western Conference. But for NYCFC, this was a loss that makes it more difficult with a Saturday meeting at Eastern Conference division leading Cincinnati.
There is a sense of urgency and that can be said for the first time during this continued struggle to score goals.
“Feel this team needs a spark,” Cushing said. “Tired of not winning football games. The margin is smaller. I have to move forward to keep believing and keep everyone’s head up, keep the guys believing all we need is one to light the spark. We wanted it to be today and it wasn’t and we must move on to Cincinnati and believe in a really difficult place that we can go and get a result. We get one, hopefully we can fight for two.”
Last year NYCFC took their 1-0 win at Minnesota. It was different then. They were a team scoring more goals and without a transition of players coming and going due to international play. The return of midfielder Maxi Moralez from Argentina was a boost now in his second stint with NYCFC.
“I’ve seen a guy who is physically in really good condition…better condition than when he left and actually more motivated than ever to win for our football club,” Cushing said about Moralez. “He’s in there, really disappointed because he knows, as a team, and I as a coach, we should win this football game. It’s too familiar of a statement to say if we play this game, nine out of ten times we win.”
Moralez was on target and three different players made their team debut. Defender Birk Risa, forward Julian Fernandez, and Andres Perea. Risa started the match while Fernandez and Perea came off the bench in the 61st minute of the match replacing midfielder James Sands and forward Matias Pellegrini.
Moralez has played 163 games for NYCFC and has been with the team since the 2017 MLS regular season. Playing all available minutes in his return, he logged two shots, three corners taken, five attacking assists, one tackle, and an 89.1% passing accuracy rate.
“Honestly, the team keeps trying to play the same way with new players,” Moralez said. “We aren’t getting the results we are looking for, that we want, especially after such a great first half and well it leaves a sour taste. We hoped to start these ten games by winning. We still have six more at home, three away and we are going to attempt to get the most amount of points to enter the playoffs.”
But the best scoring opportunity for NYCFC came in the 76th minute when Minnesota keeper Dayne St. Clair made a diving deflection of a right-footed attempt from the left side of the box from Santiago Rodriguez. The rebound went to Julian Fernandez, but his right-footed shot and an open goal went into the side of the net.
Surely there is not a lack of an ability to get that needed goal, but those goals have been difficult to find and it has become a recurring theme this season for NYCFC. Fernandez is the newest addition to the roster to provide reinforcement. The 19-year old forward from Argentine Top Flight Side Velez Sarsfield, tallied seven goals and two assists in 60 all-competition appearances for Velez.
“Really happy to get some minutes,” he said through an interpreter. “But at the same time it is a weird feeling because of the result. I hope to be an important player and play my part and role on this team and help out in any way I can to be a positive impact for the club.”
The positive can only come with scoring goals down this important stretch. If not, that hurt will continue for NYCFC to become one of nine playoff seeds out of the Eastern Conference.
“I think you must model it yourself,” Cushing said. “As soon as they feel I don’t believe, ultimately, I think it’s finished. I can guarantee that I see a team that is creating big chances but we’re not taking it.”
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso