Orlando City

Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. New York City FC

Familiarize yourself with a New York City FC team that looks very different compared to past years.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City’s busy month of May continues at a breakneck pace this week. The Lions will be back at home tomorrow night to take on New York City FC.

A visit from NYCFC means I spoke to Oliver Strand, the executive editor over at Hudson River Blue. Like us here at The Mane Land, the folks over at HRB have gone independent, and they’re continuing to do excellent work covering NYCFC, NJ/NY Gotham FC, and other soccer in the Tri-State area. I also took the time to answer some of their questions about Orlando City, so make sure you head over to their place and check those out!

Orlando and NYCFC both seem to have had an up-and-down start to the season. What’s the feeling among the fans about the first two months for New York?

Oliver Strand: Frustration and patience. Frustration because the team has put in some of the most lifeless performances in club history, which are especially jarring after the triumphs of 2021 and 2022. It’s not just that NYCFC has lost games it coulda/shoulda won, it’s that it can look nothing like the technical, possessive, progressive team we have come to expect. 

Patience because the team is in the middle of a rebuild after losing most of its most important players (see below), and the fans fully understand this is a work in progress. 

Who were some of the big off-season departures for NYCFC, and how have they been replaced?

OS: The short answer: Everybody, and nobody. The long answer: The backbone of the team that won MLS Cup in 2021 and made a deep run in the 2022 playoffs is now gone. Valentin Castellanos left last summer and hasn’t been replaced. 

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson has been replaced by former backup Luis Barraza to mixed results. Playmaker Maxi Moralez was one of the best in the league, and he has nominally been replaced by the promising Richy Ledezma — he’s good, and shows signs of becoming great, but we’re at the start of that journey. Center back Alexander Callens was also one of the best in the league, and his replacement is Tony Alfaro, who is more of a depth piece. 

To be fair, the additions to the defense are strong. Right back Anton Tinnerholm is gone, but new signing Mitja Ilenic is an 18-year-old Slovenian who puts in consistently strong performances. New left back Braian Cufré has made 10 of 12 starts. 

But the biggest gap is in the attack. After Castellanos left, Héber and Talles Magno shared duties as the No. 9. Héber is now with Seattle, and Magno is back to his preferred position on the left wing, leaving the team without a focus to the attack. Santiago Rodríguez has played as a false nine a couple of times, but that’s not exactly a replacement. There’s a striker-sized hole in this team.

This is the team’s first full year with Nick Cushing at the helm, what type of soccer does he want NYCFC to play?

OS: He wants to pick up where Ronny Deila left off and play in a way that’s possession-based and progressive: Attractive, attacking soccer. It was clicking into place at the end of last year — the 3-0 win over Inter Miami in the MLS Cup playoffs was one of the most beautiful games NYCFC has ever played.

The problem is he doesn’t quite have the personnel to pull that off right now. Is it because of chemistry? Maybe they just need more time together. Is it ability? Maybe this group isn’t technical enough. Or is it desire? This team is missing that edge that Castellanos, Moralez, Callens, and Johnson brought to every game they played. 

What we’re left with is possession-based soccer that rarely progresses into the attacking third. There’s a lot of triangle passes between the goalkeeper and defenders, but it’s not that attractive or dangerous. 

Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?

OS: Alfredo Morales was out with an injury on Saturday. It’s hard to say who might make the injury list — NYCFC doesn’t announce it until the last minute. There are no suspensions.

The starting XI is also hard to say. Out of the 12 games this season, Cushing has played 11 different starting XIs. He experimented with a back three two games ago, echoing the back three he used at the end of the 2022 season to incredible effect, but then abandoned it on Saturday.

Here’s a best guess:

Luis Barraza; Braian Cufré, Maxime Chanot, Thiago Martins, Mitja Ilenic; Keaton Parks, James Sands; Richy Ledezma; Talles Magno, Santiago Rodriguez, Gabriel Pereira.

Final score: Orlando 2-1 NYCFC. It’s hard to see this squad winning on the road given its recent away performances.

Thank you to Oliver for helping us get up to speed on NYCFC. Vamos Orlando!


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