On Sunday evening, New York City FC traveled to just outside the Windy City to face Chicago Fire FC. The Pigeons were in the middle of a rough patch, and looked to flip the switch on their recent results. They lost their last three fixtures, and had just one point in their last four.
While it would be irresponsible to declare that the Bronx Blues have played poorly, for they have not entirely, it needs to be said that defensive mistakes are why they have dropped points over the last few weeks. Of course, mistakes can lead to losses, and that is what happened. These mistakes though are ones that should not be made week in and week out. As a result, fans expected the Chicago match to be different, especially because they were putting pressure on both the team and Nick Cushing.
And finally, NYCFC turned things around, and got their first win since the home game against Inter Miami CF. The Pigeons beat the Fire, 2-0, thanks to the goals from Gabriel Pereira and Santiago Rodríguez. It was not perfect, and the home team led in possession with over 58%, but the visitors were able to hold on and win.
The difference between the last three fixtures and then the one against Chicago was simple: NYCFC limited their mistakes, and did not make poor ones that led to goals. The defense was compact and strong, and there was a choral unison throughout the entire team when it came to defending.
New York City FC broke their three- game losing streak and won in Chicago
When the home side had the ball, every New York City FC play moved back and defended. They limited Chicago’s chances and held them to zero shots on target. Maxime Chanot helped Sean Johnson dictate the backline, and the center-back had five total clearances, one block, and one interception. In fact, if he did not execute some of his clearances, then the Fire might have had some shots on target.
Meanwhile, Justin Haak had a noticeably solid game. Not only did he produce some excellent passes in the midfield, but he also had a defensive block and a few clearances in the defense.
Of course, it was Johnson himself who had a good performance, despite not having to make any saves. Still, he read the ball well, was able to grab it in the air at the right moments, and even came off his line a few times to clear the ball. This included a moment in the second half, for he collided with a Fire player when he got a hand on the ball towards the end of the box. There was an immediate injury concern, but he was okay.
The moment of the match was undoubtedly the first goal by Pereira in the 16th minute. Rodríguez passed the ball to the young Brazilian, and he immediately controlled the ball. After taking a few steps, he took the shot from outside the box, and what a rocket it was. Pereira directed the ball right into the top-right corner, and there was nothing that could be done. He put NYCFC in front, and the Pigeons did not look back.
Did New York City FC make a mistake by not signing a striker?
Some fans have argued lately that New York City FC should have brought someone in to replace Valentín Castellanos before the summer window closed. However, Cushing and the NYCFC front office believe either Talles Magno or Héber can play the striker position. Plus, other players, as seen in the Chicago fixture, are scoring.
The issue at hand, at least in the previous three matches where the Pigeons lost, was the defensive mistakes. Without those errors, the team would have picked up more points in the last few weeks. Although, passes in the attacking third can always, and must, improve.
Now, Héber is a natural striker, and it is clear he is not the same player yet as his first season. He can play up front, but the Pigeons need him to regain his full form again. He has slowly been improving, and has seven goals in all competitions. Plus, he is the type of player who needs minutes in order to regain his goal-scoring form.
On the other hand, like Castellanos was originally, Magno is a natural winger, and needs to adjust to the striker position. There is the question of whether now is the time to experiment with him up front and center, especially with the regular season winding down. Plus, in games where he has started or moved into the striker positon, the younger Brazilian would often move to the wings and out of position. Against the Fire, he seemed a little more comfortable up front and center, and did create a few chances for his teammates.
With the uncertainty of both, many thought a striker should have been brought in, or even traded for, with the departure of Castellanos. But, there were questions about the Argentine too before he developed into the 2021 Golden Boot winner that fans loved and adored. As such, it makes sense that the front office did not rush and sign someone, and wanted to give current players a chance.
If this experiment does not work out, and Héber is still struggling to regain his 2019 form at the end of the season, then NYCFC should go out and sign a striker before the 2023 campaign begins. At this point in time, such a move was not an intelligent one to make. It is not like the Pigeons are not scoring either; it is the defensive mistakes that led to the previous three losses, and then they won in Chicago.
It must be repeated that New York City FC is still adjusting to the loss of their star player. But this was not the time to rush the signing of a striker. Magno and Héber both deserve the chance, and other players are scoring too, as seen in this weekend’s 2-0 win.