Stymied midfield could be reason for NYCFC's struggles

Santiago Rodríguez of NYCFC
Santiago Rodríguez of NYCFC / Daniela Porcelli/ISI Photos/GettyImages

It is no secret that New York City FC have had numerous flaws over the course of a tumultuous 2023 season. Currently, the team is on a ten game winless skid in Major League Soccer play, where their biggest flaw has been on full display: goal scoring. Over that duration, the Pigeons have only been able to muster eight goals. 

While many have attributed this to the team’s lack of a striker in the wake of Valentín Castellanos' departure, the more glaring deficiencies lie within the lack of chance creation. Over the course of the season, NYCFC ranks 21st out of 29 teams in expected goals, with 21.3, according to FotMob. The team has had a difficult time finishing these chances, scoring 20 goals; the difference in real and expected goals is not incredibly abnormal.

While NYCFC are only slightly below average at creating chances, what is alarming is the difference between this season and last season’s chance creation. Last season, the team sat third in FotMob’s xG leaderboard, behind only the Philadelphia Union and LAFC. While Castellanos’ boots were never realistically going to be filled, the failure to inject creativity into a midfield that lost its longtime engine in Maxi Moralez has given the team no room for error. 

Also notable is Santiago Rodríguez's inability to replicate his 2022 season. Last year, he created a whopping 19 big chances, whereas he has only contributed four so far this season. None of the makeshift strikers have received enough service to get into any sort of rhythm, causing a revolving door at the position. 

The NYCFC midfield could be the reason for the recent struggles

Over NYCFC’s stretch of relevance, the key was continuity. Players such as Moralez and Castellanos were more or less staples in the squad before their respective departures. In the wake of their exits, the lineup has lacked the same continuity. No player has been able to get comfortable, leading to an identity crisis. The players are not sure who to play through, and do not seem to trust each other to make the right play. 

Perhaps one of the best examples of this occurred in the match last weekend, where NYCFC and the Columbus Crew drew 1-1 at Yankee Stadium. Gabriel Pereira played a ball across the face of goal towards a wide open Gabriel Segal, who cut his run inside. Pereira placed the ball towards the far post, just out of the reach of Segal’s outstretched boot as he tried to adjust his run.

Had these players been more familiar with each other’s tendencies, this play might have resulted in a goal. Instead, it was an all-too-familiar fleeting moment of hope, followed by a deep sigh from the crowd.

Even worse than the players not trusting each other, the question could be asked if the players even believe in themselves. Whenever there is positive movement, it is stymied by a heavy pass or a poor touch. Are the players the issue? Is it the coaching? Is the problem systemic?

Next. NYCFC fails to win again but Gabriel Pereira shines against Atlanta United. NYCFC fails to win again but Gabriel Pereira shines against Atlanta United. dark

Hopefully, New York City FC can identify the source of these issues and find a way to restore that confidence, and start finding the net before the sun has set on the season.