New York City FC enters the MLS Cup playoffs armed with one of the most dangerous forward lines in the league.
This is the sixth season in a row that the NYCFC is making it to the playoffs and although they have never gone further than the semifinals of the Eastern Conference during that time, no one will take them lightly.
Here’s everything you need to know about the NYCFC ahead of the off – season – from tactics to key players and their chances of winning the grand prize.
NYCFC started and finished the season well enough to finish fourth in the East, but a nasty habit in the middle of the year to take red cards (six of 10 games between early August and late September) meant that they gave away many points.
Fortunately, Ronny Deila’s attack went into gear again and a series of three wins and two draws – with 12 goals scored – over the last five regular season games got them back over the playoff line and into fourth place.
As a result, they will host Atlanta United in Round One, but should they move on, they will likely travel from that time – including potentially going to the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Ronny Deila has built up a strong attacking strength. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Deila has experimented with three at the back this season, but 4-2-3-1 is his go-to setup. The Norwegian coach likes that his full-backs drive forward – losing Anton Tinnerholm to an ACL injury hurts here – that his center-backs should play out and that his winger puts himself in.
With all that forward movement, it’s important that the NYCFC’s double pivot protects the midfielders – who work with Alfredo Morales in the absence of Keaton Parks remains in the air. Maxi Moralez roams behind the gold boot winner Taty Castellanos and picks up the ball in pockets where he can cut up the opponent’s defense.
NYCFC scores high in a large number of metrics and can hurt you in so many different ways.
Taty Castellanos: A late round of six goals in his last four regular season games saw Taty Castellano catch up with his xG and win the MLS Golden Boot. But even if the Argentine returns to frustrating in front of goal, he remains important to this NYCFC team. He can dribble, he can fit and his stay play is fantastic. And Castellanos is extremely intelligent with and without the ball – he will pull you out when the NYCFC arrives, or hold you tight when you try to play. NYCFC’s MLS Cup chances are due to Castellanos being the best.
Taty Castellanos with the leap for his 19th of the season!
He’s back in the race for the Golden Boot pres. of Audi and @NYCFC is level. # NYCvPHI // #DecisionDay pic.twitter.com/m7GIzXqRHy
– Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 7, 2021
Maxi Moralez: Six of Castellano’s 19 goals were scored by Maxi Moralez, making the Argentine pair the most productive assist-to-goal-scoring duo in the MLS. Moralez had a relatively slow 2020 by his own standards and there were those who believed that the 34-year-old began to slow down. In the name of justice, who did not fight in view of the distractions of 2020? Moralez is back this year, with three goals and 11 assists. Give him space and he will punish you.
Alexander Callens: If there’s a weakness in this NYCFC team, it’s in the back – especially going one-on-one with ball carriers. While their 38 percent tackle success rate against dribblers is by no means the worst in the league, it’s pretty bad for a side of the NYCFC’s caliber. With Tinnerholm out to the right of him and Parks sidelined in front of him, Alexander Callens will have a big job to anchor Deila’s defense. The Peruvian midfielder has a high success rate of 56 percent when it comes to tackling dribblers this season, which is lucky considering that this is the area where New York’s Round One opponent, Atlanta United, is the best. Callens must keep the back door closed while forwards start working.
Can NYCFC go all the way? | Matthew Burt
Hosts are NYCFC favorites against Atlanta United. But the Five Stripes’ brilliance in carrying balls and drawing the opponent into one-on-one duels can only be the kryptonite that tracks out Deila’s side. Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno and Luiz Araujo are hot to deal with.
This is without a doubt the closest of the round one bands in the East, but a NYCFC can stop losing if they get too heavy.
Prediction: Round one