2. New York City FC desperately needs a healthy backline
Once again, New York City FC was without the veteran center-back, Maxime Chanot. Then, Thiago Martins was unavailable too, thus leaving Alexander Callens as the only experienced center-back. Rather than using Vuk Latinovich, Ronny Deila chose to include both Alfredo Morales and Nicolás Acevedo to help boost the defense, with Morales playing mostly as a center-back.
However, clearly that did not help, for Toronto FC scored four goals. Like last season, Morales was somewhat a liability when he went into the center-back position, and this was seen with the first goal from Jesús Jiménez. The Spanish forward happened to be in the right place at the right time, but NYCFC switched off defensively for one moment. This allowed the pass to get right to Jiménez, and Morales was supposed to be marking him. Instead, the ball went right past him, hit the bottom of the right post, and shifted into the back of the net. There was nothing Sean Johnson could do, and this put Toronto up in front.
Meanwhile, Morales had an unfortunate moment in the first half, where Valentín Castellanos had a goal off of a corner kick. But, after VAR review, it was ruled offside. At first, it was difficult to see what happened, but after looking at the different angles, it looked like the ball hit Morales on the way into the net. As such, his inability to move out of the way led to the goal being ruled offside.
Alas, Morales did redeem himself in the second half, for he did make some good blocks and interceptions. At least, that was the case, until the end of the second half, where he and the rest of the defensive third struggled immensely, and switched off again. The Reds got a goal back in the 86th minute, which came from a corner kick for Toronto, and both Morales and Héber failed to mark Deandre Kerr, who headed the ball past Johnson.
Then in the 89th, Morales got his second yellow card and was sent off. He made a careless foul, and really put the Pigeons at risk, for they went a man down. As a result, Michael Bradley scored off of a free kick in the 90th minute, for the backline just watched the ball go in.
At the same time, it was the offense that brought NYCFC from being 2-1 down to 5-2 up. The goals that should have occurred in the first half finally went into the back of the net. The 57.8% of possession also helped, for it kept the Reds from having chances on the backline.
Still, if the Bronx side did not find their scoring boots, then the defensive errors would have led to a loss. Arguably the second Toronto goal was from a counter-attack, but with an experienced backline, there is the possibility someone would have gotten back in time. And the other goals saw the defense completely switch off, including the header from Bradley.
There is no doubt that Chanot is missed. His work rate tends to keep NYCFC in games, and his defensive abilities are clearly evident in every game that he plays. Martins continues to adjust to life on the pitch with the Pigeons, and maybe if he was available, then the match would have gone differently. Maybe the defense would not have collapsed late in the second half, and the score would have ended 5-2 over the 5-4 result. Still, it is evident the defense is still shaky, and New York City FC desperately needs the two center-backs to return.