New York City FC: Why did 2023 become a rebuilding year?

Oct 9, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New York City FC players react after a goal is scored by forward
Oct 9, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New York City FC players react after a goal is scored by forward / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC fans knew they would lose some players this offseason.  Like every year, players come and go, and sometimes fan favorites leave.  Decisions by the individual or the club are understandable, like Maxi Moralez leaving to return home.  However, no one thought that 2023 would be a rebuilding year.  No one saw the team letting so many go, and no one thought they would not bring back fan favorites. 

Yes, Moralez and Anton Tinnerholm left to return home.  But it did not stop there. Nicolás Acevedo was sent on loan, Héber was traded to Seattle Sounders FC, and Alexander Callens and Sean Johnson were not re-signed.  Plus, Valentín Castellanos left on loan during the summer transfer window, but that was a wanted move by everyone since the Argentine deserved a shot in Europe.

In complete honesty, the departures of Moralez and Tinnerholm are okay.  Both were fan favorites and will be missed, but both wanted to return home.  In the case of Tinnerholm, the right-back position is in good hands with Tayvon Gray and Mitja Ilenič, who was recently signed to the club

On the other hand, it was thought that Santiago Rodríguez could return and officially replace Moralez.  But, the versatile midfielder is officially back with Montevideo City Torque, which means there are big shoes to fill in the midfield. Although, recent reports do show that a deal might have been made with the Pigeons, but one will have to wait and see whether he officially returns. 

Many players departed New York City FC

If Moralez, Rodríguez, and Tinnerholm were the only main players to depart, then New York City FC would be in a solid position to start the new season.  Again, players will come and go, and that can include some starters too.  The issue at hand are the rest of the moves, or non-moves. 

For starters, the front office sent Acevedo on loan, and he had grown tremendously during his time with the team.  It was expected he would be a starter this year, and provide plenty of minutes in the defensive midfield.  In addition, with the injury history of Keaton Parks and Alfredo Morales, having Acevedo would be vital for the long season.  It is unknown why he was sent on loan, but not having him, Moralez, and possibly Rodríguez means that the midfield is somewhat in shambles at this time.

Meanwhile, trading Héber away means that there is no true striker on the roster.  He was also a fan favorite, and everyone loved his energy and smile.  Sure, he was not a main starter in 2022, but there was no doubt he was slowly improving every week.  Unfortunately, his ACL injury in 2020 kept him out for about a year, and it was taking a long time for him to regain his form.  Although he was not there yet, it is possible 2023 will be the year the Brazilian completely returns to his goal scoring self.  Only time will tell if Seattle won the trade, and this was a fan favorite who is now gone.

Then, Callens and Johnson will not return to NYCFC, and have signed elsewhere.  These two are the biggest losses, for the club could have re-signed them.  Most importantly, Callens has been one of the top center-backs in Major League Soccer, while Johnson was a top goalkeeper and the captain.  Also, like many of the departures, the two were fan favorites. 

Regarding Callens, it seems the issue was the salary.  Per reports on Twitter, a deal could not be reached, for it was assumed the defender wanted a salary similar to Thiago Martins, and rightfully so.  Unfortunately, the Pigeons already have Martins, a center-back, signed as a Designated Player, so with the cap in Major League Soccer, it was clear they could not have two. 

Still, it does not mean the club could have found a way to bring him back.  Many supporters probably would have preferred for Martins’ contract to be brought down.  While he had a solid season, the Brazilian did not live up to expectations, and had too many terrible mistakes.  Hence, the move for NYCFC to sign him as a DP in 2022, and to let Callens go in 2023, makes the front office look bad.  It would not be surprising if there was quite a bit of anger regarding this. 

At the same time, the sting does not hurt as much, for the center-back signed with Girona FC.  After performing extremely well in MLS, he is getting a second chance to play in Europe.  Hopefully he will find success this time, and he undoubtedly deserves this opportunity, just like Castellanos.  Nonetheless, the loss of Callens will still sting; it just will not hurt as much as Johnson.

Unfortunately, the former captain signed with Toronto FC, and it does not make sense.  The goalkeeper continues to perform at a high level, and he was the leader of the squad.  It would not be shocking if he wanted a higher salary, but there is the room to give him more compared to what he made last year. 

There is the question of whether Luis Barraza could step in as the first choice goalkeeper as well.  He is talented, but is he the right one to stand between the sticks?  What about Matt Freese, who NYCFC acquired from the Philadelphia Union?  Could he be a starter for the first time too? 

So much is up in the air for New York City FC

When all is said and done, all of the New York City FC departures in one single year do not make sense.  Not only are many of these men fan favorites, but this means half of the Starting XI will be different for 2023.  If NYCFC did not make the playoffs in 2022, or if they were not good the last couple of seasons, then such an exodus would be understandable.  But they won the MLS Cup in 2021, finished in third place in the Eastern Conference in 2022, and made it to the Conference Finals in the playoffs. 

It also needs to be said that the emotional connection between the supporters and players is just as important as the business decisions by the front office.  Gutting the team when it was unnecessary can cause strife amongst the fan base.  When a team is successful, no one wants to see a high proportion of fan favorites and starters leave.  Completely changing a team when not needed can cause some to lose interest, and also cause distrust with the club.  After years of issues regarding the stadium, now this happens?

There has been silence on the front office end of NYCFC too.  Answers to why this ended up being a rebuilding year are needed, and why some fan favorites were let go or not brought back.  Yes, new signings were announced, and eventually more will come, but that does not help the fact that so many beloved players are gone. Some made sense due to personal decisions, but other departures are puzzling. 

Maxi Moralez leaves New York City FC as a club legend . dark. Next

So, New York City FC better have answers.  Fans, and perhaps the remaining players, are waiting.