On Saturday, New York City FC faced Chicago Fire FC in the final game of the season. The Decision Day battle meant everything to the two teams. Heading into the match, both had to win to have a chance of making the playoffs.
NYCFC also needed Nashville SC to beat the New York Red Bulls and Inter Miami CF to draw or win against Charlotte FC. If either of those fixtures went the wrong way, then it would not matter whether the Pigeons grabbed all three points.
Since the match was at home, a win was possible. Nick Cushing put out one of the better lineups of the season. Talles Magno, Mounsef Bakrar, and Julián Fernández all started up top for the first time. Andres Jasson has been playing well over the last couple of months, but Fernández has the potential to be a top winger in Major League Soccer.
In the end, one goal was enough for NYCFC to win and earn all three points. Beating Chicago 1-0 on the last day of the regular season was a decent result. Despite this, the games around them were not blessed by the soccer gods. For the first time since 2015, the Pigeons will not be in the playoffs.
NYCFC beats Chicago but fails to make the playoffs
The first half was full of chances for NYCFC. They outshot Chicago, ten to four. There were a few missed chances too. Bakrar had a brilliant pass to Santiago Rodríguez around the 25th minute, but the Designated Player could not direct the ball into the goal. Magno had a few chances toward the end of the half but could not find the back of the net.
To make matters worse, neither of the two fixtures were going their way as they entered halftime. Miami was losing, and the Red Bulls and Nashville were tied.
As NYCFC entered the second half, they continued to attack. However, their offensive effort died down as the second 45 minutes went on. The difference was the team finally found the back of the net in the 64th minute. Fernández shot a beautiful curler from outside of the box and put his team in front as the ball fell through the top left corner of the goal. The young Argentine showed another glimpse of what fans can expect in 2024.
Meanwhile, the Fire became more of a threat in the second half. The Pigeons had to work overtime to keep them off the scoresheet. The last ten to fifteen minutes were predominantly controlled by the visitors. Luckily, no mistakes were made, and the tying goal was not allowed.
In addition, Matt Freese was a major part of the 1-0 win. The goalkeeper had four saves on the night. His biggest came in the 30th minute against Xherdan Shaqiri. He had to react quickly to push the ball away from the goal. His performance might have confirmed that he is the team’s number-one goalkeeper going into 2024.
Alas, the three points meant nothing in the end. Sure, it was nice to finish out the season with a win, but Charlotte and the Red Bulls’ wins meant NYCFC would not be in the postseason. The win helped them move up in the Eastern Conference table, but they still finished in 11th place. That is their worst finish in the history of the club.
At the same time, they still had more points compared to their eighth-place finish in 2015. That year, they ended the season with 37 points. In 2023, the Bronx/Queens side ended with 41. Which season is the worst? That is up for debate.
Yet, 2015 was the inaugural season, so it was not expected the team would make the playoffs. After years of making the postseason and finishing as a top team, 2023’s drop-off feels like it might be the worst season.
New York City FC will have a lot of work to do in the offseason. There will be concerns as the club begins their journey. Clearly, they did not replace players the way they should, so will the Front Office build the team to compete? What about Cushing? Will he be back? The questions are endless.