Nick Cushing, David Lee step up during New York City FC rebuild

Nick Cushing of New York City FC
Nick Cushing of New York City FC / James Williamson - AMA/GettyImages

This off-season, fans of New York City FC stood by and watched a team that had won a championship just a year ago be gutted. Gone were leaders Maxi Moralez, Sean Johnson, Alexander Callens, and seasoned contributors Héber, Anton Tinnerholm, and Nicolás Acevedo. The list grew longer the deeper the team went into the transfer window. 

This was a gut job. A rebuild. An attempt to save money and start all over again. While it was hard to figure out how this team would remain competitive in 2023, two men continued to work tirelessly to get this team ready to play a respectable brand of soccer. When it seemed its bleakest, Sporting Director, David Lee, made two small moves that will prove to be huge the rest of the season.

By securing the return of both Santiago Rodríguez and Matías Pellegrini, he realized keeping some continuity was necessary. Both Santi and Pellegrini grew into starting roles last season. You got the feeling they were just coming into their own as the playoffs concluded. To get two young players back
after their loans had expired, with that kind of upside, was nothing short of genius. 

In addition, Lee got lucky when James Sands' stint at Scottish Premier League team Rangers F.C. was not renewed. While Sands struggled for consistency in Europe, he will be a stabilizing force all season with the Pigeons. Sands will also be a leader the team desperately needed, for he will help Maxime Chanot usher in a new era at Yankee Stadium. One last move for New York City FC that was underrated was the addition of Goalkeeper Matt Freese, who will help push Luis Barraza or eventually unseat him. 

David Lee and Nick Cushing lead New York City FC rebuild

New York City FC fans wondered just how the head coach, Nick Cushing, was going to lineup this new look and young NYCFC team. He’s primarily used a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sands and Keaton Parks in the defensive midfield positions with a young nucleus of Gabriel Pereira, Pellegrini, and Santi in the midfield. Then, the lone attacker Talles Magno has started up front and center. He has struggled in the number 9 role, but his talent can’t be ignored. 

With a respectable record of  2-2-1, NYCFC have true tests coming up against the New England Revolution and Atlanta United FC. However, Cushing seemed to move away with what was working and turned to a 4-4-2 against Houston Dynamo FC, but it didn’t work as the Dynamo defense handled them. They also used Sands as a center-back in place of Chanot who was away on international duty.

Using Sands on defense took him away from his normal midfield responsibilities, which also led to a different formation. It does seem like this is indicative of the lack of depth the Pigeons have at the position. With the winter/spring transfer window winding down, Lee might have to shift his focus and bring in more at that position. 

His latest addition is attacking midfielder Richard Ledezma, on loan from PSV,  who Lee says “will play in a number of competitions throughout the season and he adds quality and depth to our roster.” Don’t be surprised if Cushing decides to use Ledezma to relieve Magno as the lone attacking player up front. 

A championship season, tournament silverware, and long playoff runs have bought this franchise some time to rebuild. Couple that with the announcement of a brand new stadium and a rebuild doesn’t seem so bad. City Football Group have been rumored to be strapped for cash and the days of free-spending for veterans are may be over.

Next. Here are questions for New York City FC that need answers . dark

But make no mistake, if this team finds itself in a prime playoff position, then fans will be clamoring for talent come during the summer transfer window. Some pundits have been surprised Lee has been able to make the moves he’s made so far for New York City FC. Maybe his hands aren’t tied after all.