Diagnosing NYCFC's post-break problems after loss to Philadelphia Union

Jun 26, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Union defender Nathan Harriel (26)
Jun 26, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Union defender Nathan Harriel (26) / Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, New York City FC made the trip to Pennsylvania to take on the Philadelphia Union.  Earlier this season, the Pigeons lost to their fellow Eastern Conference side at home.  Hence, they looked to take revenge, and wanted to stay in first place. 

Additionally, NYCFC wanted to brush off their Open Cup loss from the midweek, and return to winning ways.  The team also needed to brush off the rust that had settled since the international break, for they have not been their usual selves since the season resumed for them last weekend. 

Despite their efforts, the Pigeons fell to Philadelphia, 2-1. An early goal and late goal led to the win for the home side, and the Bronx side could only find a goal from a penalty kick. 

As a result, NYCFC fell into second place in the Eastern Conference.  While they are still in a solid position, the top seven is only separated by six points.  If the team wants to be a solid contender all season long, then they must find the wins on the road, and they have to score.

New York City FC falls 2-1 to the Philadelphia Union

The match did not start off well for NYCFC, for the Union controlled to pace of play to start, and the Pigeons defensively were a mess.  They kept on giving up the ball in the defensive third, and like the game last weekend, were extremely rusty.  The players’ focus seemed to be missing, and that was why the home side took an early lead in the 9th minute. 

Unfortunately, the goal by Mikael Uhre was a goal that should not have occurred.  The defensive mishap started when Maxime Chanot completely missed a tackle and fell to the ground.  This led Uhre with a chance on goal, but Sean Johnson was in a good position to make the save.  Instead, Chanot’s falling almost led him to run into the United States goalkeeper.  Therefore, Johnson completely missed the ball as he too fell to the ground, and the ball rolled into the back of the net.

Throughout the rest of the game, the defense did improve, but there were still multiple giveaways, especially in the midfield and defensive third.  But that goal set the tone for the rest of the fixture, and ultimately led to the loss for the Pigeons.  And then, there was that incredible team goal scored by Cory Burke due to a deflection in stoppage time in the second half.  That was a goal that could not be stopped, and solidified a win for the Union.

That being said, it does not mean NYCFC was not a threat.  In fact, they had 10 shots with five on target.  The players consistently moved the ball forward, and put the ball into the box.  The issue at hand, which is something all too familiar with the fans and the team, was the inability to score, or in this case, score multiple goals.  They did not capitalize on chances, and like numerous times in 2021, the lack of scoring led to zero points.

While they did play a little better this time around, the rustiness was evident, for the attacking players could not score, with the exception of the penalty kick goal from Valentín Castellanos.  Of course, a team must be able to score outside of a penalty kick.  Plus, the defense was not the strong defense seen back in May.  In fact, if not for Johnson, this score would have been even worse, for he kept the team in the game with three saves in the first half.

Yes, the second half was much better, and NYCFC put themselves in a position to grab a point before the Union’s late second half goal.  Nevertheless, the players had to do more in order to find success.    

On a positive note, Anton Tinnerholm made his return, for he came on in the start of the second half.  Unexpectedly, he played better than expected.  He was able to move the ball up the pitch well, and got the ball into the box to increase opportunities in the attack.  Also, it was intriguing to see him play an entire half.  This is positive news for the team, especially with their recent struggles.

What is the cause for the recent struggles for New York City FC?

It is obvious though that New York City FC have not played their best since the end of the international break.  They drew against the Colorado Rapids last weekend, lost to the New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup, and then lost to the Philadelphia Union.  They were playing well before the break, so what happened?

Was it the international break, and did the long break put a stop to the team’s play?  A disruption like that can always change a team’s course, either in a positive or negative way.  It was a long break too, for the team did not play for three weeks.  While players like Alexander Callens and Johnson were gone with their national teams, is it possible the Pigeons would have benefitted by playing during that time?

Is it Ronny Deila’s departure?  The former head coach decided to leave during the international break, and it is possible NYCFC players were a little blindsided by the decision.  A change midseason, when not warranted based on play, can impact the mental state of a team.  This can lead to sluggish performances, an increase in mistakes, and more.

However, Nick Cushing has been with the team since Deila arrived, so one would think the change would not have too much of an impact.  For the most part, he is continuing with the former head coach’s style.  But so far, he has not been able to lead the team to a win.  This leads fans to wonder whether there is some difficulty for Cushing, or whether there is still somewhat of an adjustment.

Again, NYCFC did play a much better second half; they just could not get more than the Castellanos goal.  More importantly, it was Cushing’s substitutions that changed how the team played, and made the fixture more competitive.

Nonetheless, a loss is a loss.  Indeed, the second half showed some positive signs, with the exception of the second goal from Philadelphia.  But New York City FC need to remove that rustiness, and play much better when they travel to face FC Cincinnati during the week.