Evaluating the current state of NYCFC's squad in 2022
By Jack Blanchard
The champagne has dried, the confetti swept from the steps of City Hall, and less than two months after NYCFC celebrated its first MLS Cup victory, we find ourselves less than two weeks away from the CONCACAF Champions League opener against Santos de Guápiles.
Since that typically rainy day in Portland, much has changed in the NYCFC squad. Key departures include James Sands, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and Jesus Medina. Taty Castellanos is somewhat surprisingly still at the club, although for how long remains to be seen given rumored interest from some of South America's largest clubs. Several free agents have been signed to new contracts, including Maxi Moralez.
NYCFC have made a few new signings since last season, adding three forwards in the MLS Superdraft and signing three homegrown players to professional contracts. All six players are likely to have a larger impact with the new NYCFC II than the first team this season, which leaves several holes in the squad yet to be addressed.
That no major first team signings have been made by NYCFC should not come as a surprise to fans, as the club tends to take their time when signing new players. Several important players in last season's cup run, such as Thiago, Talles Magno, and Santi Rodriguez did not join until after the season has started. Given the end result of last season, the front office has earned trust that the squad will eventually be addressed properly. Still, there is a concerning lack of depth in areas of the squad as we approach Champions League action, particularly along the backline
NYCFC still lacks depth at the back (for now)
At goalkeeper, captain Sean Johnson will certainly be the starting keeper, with Cody Mizell and Luis Barraza returning as his backups.
After Seb Ibeagha departed the club last summer, center back was a position in which NYCFC lacked depth. With James Sands having moved to Rangers, there are even fewer options now. Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens are arguably the best center-back duo in MLS, but Vuk Latinovich is the only senior option at center back behind him. Given Chanot and Callens are both consistently involved in their national team squads, adding depth at center back before the season starts is essential. And it seems NYCFC may do exactly that with a rumored move for Brazilian center back Thiago Martins reportedly already finished.
As for the outside back positions, additional reinforcements will be needed there as well. Coming off of a torn Achilles, Anton Tinnerholm will miss a good portion of the season if not all of it. That leaves just Tayvon Gray as a natural right back in the squad. With Gudi Thorarinsson leaving the club, Chris Gloster will likely see more minutes backing up Malte Amundsen at left back. A new right back should be near the top of the club's wish list to back up Gray.
NYCFC remains deep in the central midfield and forward positions, but could use some bolstering
Despite losing James Sands as a starter, NYCFC remains strong at center midfield. Cacha Acevedo should slot into the No. 6 role that Sands played so effectively, and Alfredo Morales' strong performances throughout the playoffs make him a reliable option as well. Keaton Parks, one of the best midfielders in MLS, should return from injury as well. Justin Haak and Gedion Zelalem provide good depth options, and this should remain an area of strength for NYCFC.
Moving up the pitch, NYCFC retains a ton of quality young players. Santi Rodriguez, Thiago, and Talles Magno all played a part in last season's success, and all should continue to improve this season. These pieces alongside Maxi Moralez — who at almost 35 still is one of the best creators in MLS — should continue to form a fearsome attack. Andres Jasson may have a larger role this season due to the departures of both Medina and Tajouri-Shradi.
Given the loss of those two players and the construction of the current squad, adding a left-footed attacker should arguably be the largest priority for NYCFC this winter. With two designated player spots available, this would undeniably be an area to add significant quality to and spend big in. While Medina was a hard-working player on the right, not many would argue against that being a position in which NYCFC could certainly strengthen. Adding a Designated Player in that role seems to be an obvious use of the spot and could make defending NYCFC a nightmarish proposition for opponents.
Finally, the forward role will be something that every NYCFC fan keeps an eye on as the new season begins. As of now, reigning golden boot winner Taty Castellanos is with the team. Should Taty stay for the beginning of the season, he is highly likely to depart in the summer. Heber has started the preseason very strongly, but coming off of an ACL tear, he likely can not be an every-match starter should Taty move elsewhere.
NYCFC did add attacking depth through the draft, but only time will tell if those additions can be relied upon in big matches. If and when Taty leaves, it will be an interesting step in the development of Talles Magno. Should Ronny Deila see him as a true number 9, he will likely become the starter and striker of the future for NYCFC. However, there is a case to be made that Magno is a better option on the wing. Should Deila agree, NYCFC may use its sizable earnings from a Taty transfer to bring in a strong replacement at his position.
NYCFC maintains a very strong squad overall heading into 2022, but there are undeniably still areas of the squad to strengthen ahead of the season. An interesting few weeks lie ahead as NYCFC must add more depth should they aim to be competitive in the CONCACAF Champions League, MLS, the US Open Cup, and Campeones Cup this season.