The youth of the team was Jack Harrison, Ronald Mattarita, Federico Bravo, and Angeliño. Although the young players served an essential role, the theme of the team was defined by all-stars who were now too old for European soccer.
The veteran presence gave the team early success as they managed to advance to the quarterfinals in 2016, but was not enough for a title. Many of these veterans came to the MLS as their ability and fitness were diminishing which produced short-term success, and provided uncertainty for future seasons.
Six seasons later and the dynamic of the Night Owls has completely shifted. In 2016, Patrick Viera’s squad was led up top by Captain David Villa. Although Villa finished with 80 goals for NYCFC, he was never able to bring this team a trophy. Rather than recruiting a veteran striker to carry the attacking load, Ronny Delia opted for an attack consisting of promising young players with aspirations to go to Europe, and a veteran attacking midfielder.
The front four that started the MLS Cup Final had an average age of 25.5 which would be lower if it weren’t for the 34-year-old Maxi Moralez. Delia looked to 23-year-old Valentin “Taty” Castellanos to lead the way who managed to win NYCFC’s first Golden Boot. Combining veteran leadership with young talent proved fruitful this season as NYCFC finished the season ranked second in goals per match. The Night Owls will likely cash in on Castellanos this offseason but will have young Designated Player Talles Magno poised to replace him if need be.
The starting midfield in the MLS Cup final consisted of 21-year-old homegrown James Sands and 31-year-old Alfredo Morales. The combination of youth and experience proved to be dominant in the midfield during the playoff run. Keaton Parks missed the playoffs due to injury, but the 24-year-old would have played a ton of time if he was healthy. Parks and Sands will either continue to serve as integral parts of this team or become transfer targets that will generate revenue for the Night Owls. Morales has improved significantly over the course of the season and should provide aid in this midfield for a few more years.
When right-back Anton Tinnerholm got hurt, Delia was forced to put his trust in 19-year-old Tayvon Gray who exceeded expectations. The Homegrown player will now serve as a key part of this roster for years to come.
Alternatively, the defensive pairing brought plenty of experience. The duo consisting of Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot has played together since 2017. Chanot signed for NYCFC in 2016 and understands this team and Delia’s system. The aging pair still have a few more years, but new talent should soon be brought in to provide depth to the roster.
The 2021 NYCFC roster was defined as a mix of veterans and young talent that proved enough to win a title. Delia’s trust in youth has provided him with a multitude of talent at his disposal for future seasons and trophy opportunities. This team has shifted from not just signing players from Europe, but being able to develop and sell players to European clubs as well.