NYCFC Begins Their Quest to Rebound 

nysportsday wire

They were eliminated a few months ago from the MLS postseason and NYCFC coach Nick Cushing was intent on ensuring there would be a different outcome in 2024. The mission for NYCFC, of course, is to return and make a run for the MLS championship Cup.

Easier said than done. But some changes during the brief offseason hiatus sees NYCFC with the look of a contender as they begin a long campaign this Saturday at Charlotte FC. It’s been a few months since they were eliminated from the MLS postseason and not much time for Cushing and front office personnel to wipe away the disappointment. They fell short of their goals and that last kick at Citi Field sent a message.

Cushing, though, is optimistic. His team is coming off a busy and competitive slate of pre season matches and he feels the chemistry is right. There is a focus on staying healthy and scoring goals that came up short last year which denied their opportunity to compete for the MLS Cup.

“This team is playing a lot higher than it was defensively last year,” Cushing said. “This team is a lot more aggressive. The amount of pressures we are putting on the ball, the amount of aggression we’re showing, the amount of great opportunities, that we’re getting from turnovers and from defensive transitions are there.”

They had to improve and the expected usual additions with subtractions to the roster were inevitable. Last season was short of many goals and literally meaning their inability to compile three points that came back to haunt them in the MLS Eastern Conference standings that resulted in finishing 11th. To Cushing, it was frustrating making continued adjustments and seeking solutions as goals were hard to find.

Not that NYCFC was fraught with failure. They were always competitive on the pitch, the end though was frustrating as speculation mounted there would be another coaching change. But that was resolved a few weeks after the season concluded and Cushing went right back to work.

The coach reiterated he wants NYCFC to create cleaner chances. The preseason slate showed his team had the ability to create the opportunity to score. Their inability at chances failed down the important stretch in key matches that denied NYCFC a postseason seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

“I’m really pleased they’ve come from those moments,” Cushing said about the chances. “They’ve come from the front footed nature of the team. We struck the balance well with creating opportunities and chances from possession moments, from deeper transition moments, but also from those pressing and counter pressing moments.”

Then again, roster reconstruction is a constant part of the job. Forward Malachi Jones, a draft pick, was impressive during the preseason and is a valuable addition. Cushing was impressed with his tenacity to work his way into the starting eleven and is expected to debut against Charlotte. Two years removed from All-Star keeper Sean Johnson, and NYCFC expects that position to be competitive among Matt Freese who got the bulk of time down the stretch last season and Luis Barraza.

Though not like last year, NYCFC has a majority of their roster in place. Despite a young roster it has been the chemistry that has impressed Cushing as his team awaits their first match.

“The guys are working really hard and we took it day by day on preseason,” Cushing said. “That’s all you can do is take it day by day, plan and review, and go train on between that. The goals for the team are to improve every day. They were the same last year and they will continue to be that. We want to be an exciting team. We want to play football that excites people and that is real fun to play.”

The Key additions: Jovan Mijatovic, acquired from Red Star Belgrade for a reported $8.6 million transfer fee. The 18-year old striker adds to their youth and ability to be more aggressive. Andres Perea had an impressive half season from the rival Philadelphia Union on loan and the midfielder is a permanent fixture.

Augustin Ojeda, the Argentine youth international winger from Racing Club is their latest South American import and Hannes Wolf is a one-time Austrian youth international standout. The winger was last at Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach.

“Wolf, Talles Magno, Santiago Rodriguez will be competitive,” Cushing said. “Off that we have Andres Johnson, and Ojeda (Though visa issues have delayed his arrival). We have Julian Fenandez. It’s going to be hard for one of the wingers to nail down a position but that’s what we want. Competition for places.” Alfredo Morales, a holdover from their MLS Cup 2021 winning season is now with San Jose, a key loss.

NYCFC also signed Midfielder Keaton Parks to a contract extension through 2026 with options through 2028. Parks, 26, arrived five years ago and in 152 matches scored 14 goals with six assists. He has been a part of NYCFC MLS Cup and Campeones Cup championship teams compiling last season with the second most minutes finishing top-three in assists and shots.

And of course, that loan period during a long season, the ever changing issue as to the complexion of a team can always cause Cushing and other teams make constant changes to the lineup.

Though last year was categorized as frustrating, NYCFC recorded a league leading number of 14 draws and matches that went down to the wire. Opposing teams held an advantage early and coming from behind was much too often. The goals were hard to find (though they are a tough team to beat at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, venues that will continue to be home in 2024) and their finish in the Eastern Conference was unacceptable.

Regardless there is optimism as the quest begins to rebound.

Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring786. Mancuso

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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