The first starting eleven for a competitive NYCFC match MLS Cup in Portland, just over 2 months ago, is out.
While it is not the MLS opener, the starting lineup in the first match of the CONCACAF Champions League serves as a good indicator as to how Ronny Deila feels his players performed in the preseason.
Thiago Martins, the club's big offseason acquisition, does not crack the starting eleven. Having just joined the squad within the last couple of weeks, it will likely take Thiago some time to break in and take Maxime Chanot's spot.
Sean Johnson and the starting back four for most of last season's playoff run maintain their starting spots. Tayvon Gray and Malte Amundsen will likely see much more time this season given the departure of Gudmundur Thorarinsson and Anton Tinnerholm's Achilles injury.
In midfield, Gedion Zelalem is a bit of a surprise inclusion. Having missed most of his time with NYCFC through injury, Zelalem had worked his way back into contention for a spot towards the end of last season. However, in a crucial start last season he received a red card. Tonight marks an important opportunity for Zelalem to impress Deila for more minutes throughout the season.
Elsewhere, Cacha Acevedo will have a much larger role this season given the departure of James Sands. Expect Acevedo to be the main starter at holding midfield, despite the fact that Alfredo Morales is only out for this match due to testing positive for COVID earlier in the preseason.
Retaining Maxi Moralez on a non-DP move was a vital move in the offseason, and NYCFC's number 10 will slot right back into his favorite spot tonight. He will be flanked on each side by Talles Magno and Santi Rodriguez, 2 players that figure to be key creators for NYCFC this season.
While Rodriguez started most matches on the left side of midfield this season, he has been spending more time on the right in the preseason due to the departures of Jesus Medina and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. It will be interesting to see how Deila deploys Rodriguez and Magno, and how frequently they switch sides.
Talles Magno, NYCFC's major DP signing from last season, was not a frequent starter down the stretch last season. But he has undeniable talent, and a strong performance tonight could help him solidify more minutes as MLS begins.
It seemed unlikely two months ago that Taty Castellanos would be around for this match, with rumors swirling about him moving to a variety of big clubs throughout the offseason. Nevertheless, Taty returns to the starting lineup tonight. Keeping Castellanos would be a massive boost to NYCFC's hopes of lifting the Champions League title, and his inclusion in the first lineup of the season bodes well to last season's golden boot winner sticking around a bit longer.
It is a strong lineup for NYCFC and one that should have the quality to pick up where it left off and get a good road result to start its 2022 Champions League campaign.