There is a deep disconnect between the New York City FC fan base and the team this year. Flashback to a viral video of several fans berating James Sands after a loss to FC Cincinnati on May 31st. The Pigeons had just completed the seventh game of a winless streak, and somehow Sands’ commitment came into question.
It was the first time since the franchise’s inception in 2015 that I could remember the supporters turning on NYCFC. Sands was right to defend himself and his team. After all, they had just come off a defense of a title in the conference finals the year before. Two months into the season, fans revolted as if the Bronx side had never won.
There’s no doubt New York fans put all kinds of pressure on their teams, but the Yankees haven’t won since 2009, the Rangers since 1994, the Mets since 1986, the Knicks since 1973, and the Jets since 1969. When was the last time a title didn’t buy a little breathing room? In January, I wrote a piece for MLS Multiplex claiming this is a rebuilding year and fans have to brace for it. They did not heed my warnings. The primary transfer window came and went, and there were no major moves for NYCFC.
In recent years, the Yankees and Rangers decided to rebuild transparently. In 2015, General Manager Brian Cashman told fans they were sellers for the first time since he became a GM. In a year where they were supposed to rebuild, the Baby Bombers carried the team to an ALCS playoff loss to the Houston Astros. The Rangers in 2018 cleaned house and wrote a letter to fans asking for patience as they rebuild. Within two years, they were back to being contenders.
There is help on the way for NYCFC
Could NYCFC have handled the transition better? The answer is yes. But the team started siphoning off veteran players like Sean Johson, Maxi Moralez, Alexander Callens, and several others. That was the fan’s cue buy-in to the rebuild, but they didn’t.
A scan of the fan blogs and X, formerly known as Twitter, posts spoke about excitement by more time for young players like Tayvon Gray, Talles Magno, Santiago Rodríguez, and Justin Haak. Coach Nick Cushing had his hands full implementing all these young players into his Starting XI, trying to find the right combination while keeping his veterans happy.
An anonymous member of the team’s front office had this to say regarding the club's handling of the transition:
"We could have been more forthcoming with the fans. But we have changes coming. A rebuild takes more than a year, but we are confident that we’ll be able to make more moves in the transfer market. Of course, finishing 11th is frustrating for everyone, but it allows a little more breathing room when it comes to our salary cap."- An anonymous source of NYCFC
Disaster struck again in the summer transfer window when the team shipped veteran defender Maxime Chanot. The source shed more light on the club's point of view.
"Let me just say it was a difficult situation. He came to us and said he did not have the patience to be part of a rebuild, and unless we planned to bring in veterans, he wanted out. He was in the final year of his deal, so we sent him to his desired destination and received a transfer fee. Had we not, he would have gone for nothing. When a player comes to you that way, you don't want a situation to develop where he’s not putting his all into a team when he intends to leave."- An anonymous source of NYCFC
Overshadowed by Chanot’s departure was NYCFC getting $15 million for Valentín Castellanos who had been on loan to Girona FC of La Liga. “Getting that fee from Lazio was huge for us,” the source said. “Now we have a lot more money to play with come the next transfer season.”
Despite the additional transfer funds, it is important to manage expectations. Sporting Director David Lee added young players to the roster and needed to see who would be the core of his team moving forward. It left Cushing with very little depth, no number nine for most of the season, and a weakened defense.
While most fans have been screaming for Cushing’s head, the team has no plans to dismiss their coach. He grew up in the City Football Group system. He joined the Manchester City FC coaching academy 16 years ago, becoming the most successful women’s coach in Manchester City history. Cushing was an assistant coach during NYCFC’s title run, stepped in as interim coach, and won the Campones Cup in 2022.
The source confirmed the head coach is here to stay.
"He’s been in the system forever. He’s not going anywhere and fans should let this play out. You can’t blame Cushing for this season. We gave him very little to work with and he did an admirable job getting these players to buy in and believe in themselves."- An anonymous source of NYCFC
When asked what was missing more than anything all season long, the source said the number nine role was never defined. “We tried Talles Magno there most of the season, but anyone can see he’s more effective on the wing," they said.
Magno struggled to find his stride all season, mostly playing out of position and never looking comfortable as a striker. Even when he would play back on the wing, he failed to show consistency. The source added, “The organization, the fans, and his teammates all expected more from him this season, but it's something we’ll have to keep exploring and help him find his game.”
The next phase of the NYCFC rebuild has already begun. The front office has identified several players they will be targeting in the next transfer window. “Yes for sure, we will be busy," said the source. "Fans can rest assured that help is on the way.”
All that is left is fans buying into the rebuild the way the rest of New York City FC has.