Nothing can be more telling about New York City Football Club’s state as a team than their run in the Leagues Cup.
Their course in the tournament gave equal doses of anxiety, euphoria, and outright displeasure. Purgatory, heaven, and hell, if you will— leave it up to the Pigeons to give you a sampler with all three.
The opening game against Atlas FC was stolen from the City Boys. Justin Haak put on his homegrown hero cape and saved the day. But the VAR rained on his parade quicker than you can imagine, six minutes, to be exact.
The second group stage game against Toronto FC was a movie. The locker room “we have to win” pep talk from captain Maxime Chanot fired them up. They have a new striker in Mounsef Bakrar, who proved his signing worthy with a goal. Everybody was on the same page. A team who had faced nothing but adversity all season finally grabbed destiny by the collar and slammed five goals past it.
NYCFC need a miracle for the rest of the MLS season
All smiles. It is as if NYCFC realized they've been going down the wrong direction and made a sharp U-turn to get on the right path to the promised land.
Head coach Nick Cushing was happy but not drunk off celebrations after their 5-0 win. Perhaps his most important statement that evening was to “not get blinded by the score line,” and he was right. The boys in blue pivoted on the road and got a flat in the process.
Hip Hop artist Kendrick Lamar once said, “Sit down, be humble.” This was seemingly the New York Red Bulls’ battle cry in the Leagues Cup edition of the Hudson River Derby. With a 1-0 win in a highly contested game, the Red Bulls knocked NYCFC out of the Cup and back to their routine of close results against their favor.
In their opening match, they were the victim of a crime. The two that followed were the Jekyll and Hyde of performances-- it was charming, then it was unexplainably hideous inside-out.
Thankfully they have two weeks and some change to reflect and regroup. Bakrar has shown fans that he could solve the lack of a no. 9. Two games are too small of a sample size to decide if he becomes a saint or gets excommunicated, but NYCFC have time to practice working with their new target man. Whether it's Chanot and Thiago Martins pinging long balls towards Barkrar or having him operate with Talles Magno up top.
Another problem that needs to be solved is the meltdowns after conceding. Where is the fighting spirit? And no, I am not talking about wanting to fight the other team.
Time and time again, we see more heads drop than headers to the top corner. The sense of urgency is not there when NYCFC falls behind. Rather than moving the ball forward, they play around the back as the sands drop in the hourglass. The urgency issue is not only applicable to each game; it is also fitting for the rest of the season.
"We're below the line, and we have ten games to get there," Cushing said after the loss to RBNY. Sitting at the 13th spot in the Eastern Conference, NYCFC must ace the remainder of the season to avoid leaving their fate on technicalities. However, the ten-game stretch includes matches against FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC, the Red Bulls, and Inter Miami CF. Make of it what you will.
For Cushing and the team, the old habits need to go. They often become a victim of themselves, but it is time to show fans they made the right signings when they return to action. So what if Toronto is a worse team? Can we not get that version of NYCFC against the rest of the league? The Pigeons know what they are capable of-- how hard is it to play to that standard?
As for the fans-- do you believe in miracles? Get behind the team and pray.
Realistically, this season is close to flatlining. However, if New York City FC somehow pulls this stunt off, there will be plenty to celebrate. But I would not put a cent on it.