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Pigeon Post: Cher Ami Edition
With everything seemingly going wrong for NYCFC, The Outfield answers your questions.
Editor’s Note: The post is too long for email. Be sure to check out the full post here.
Any news on the Willets Point stadium plan? Also, I heard there were some protestors there a few weeks ago. - AsleepAvocado3
Awfully quiet since the potential Queens Stadium site broke....so, what's the latest? - Brian
Chris: I’m still working hard to get more information on both Willets Point and Harlem River Yards, but here’s what I do know. The club still appears to be actively negotiating at both locations with recent momentum seemingly shifting towards Queens.
The club and developers (Related Companies) have met with Queens officials several times in the last couple of months regarding a stadium at Willets Point. I’m hoping to have additional details on that soon.
Meanwhile, Harlem River Yards still seems to be an active site. A draft lease with City Football Group has been completed while additional engineering analyses and surveys continue. Similarly to Willets Point, I hope to have some more specifics on this as soon as I can.
Good news is that the summer break for NYC Community Boards is over, so there should start to be more movement on these items in the upcoming months.
Randall’s Island? - M
Randall’s Island kind of dropped off the radar, didn't it? - genenycfc
So, what was all that stuff about Randall's Island, anyway? - Corey Clayton
Chris: The rumors around Randall’s Island becoming the home of a temporary stadium for NYCFC is something we haven’t had a pulse on. That’s not to say there is not any weight to those rumors, that’s just something we don’t have any information on ourselves.
Randall’s Island has come up regarding the permanent stadium, albeit not the location for the stadium. Based on some recent information obtained, if the stadium were to be built at Harlem River Yards, the club is considering having a parking area on Randall’s Island with a pedestrian bridge connecting over to Harlem River Yards. There have also been discussions with the Randall’s Island Park Alliance to pursue a joint development with the foundation’s sports programs.
Forget the on field success for a sec. What tangible steps do you guys think this club has to take to be relevant as a club besides stadium? - hapoo123
Trey: On a macro level, the answer is as simple as it is boring: time. Time, time, time. NYCFC won’t ever outgrow the league as a whole, and the league is slowly crawling up the ratings year by year. To establish a committed base to the sport in the country, tradition needs to be built and stories that grandkids will hear in their grandparent’s laps will help point the next generation’s interest more in the direction of the beautiful game. But for now, this is a team that has yet to exist for a decade in a league that is younger than a large chunk of its fans - time. Time for American sports fans to get tired of their own oversimplified and played out hang ups about diving and low scores. If the recent commercial success of F1 in the states can prove anything is that there are still large hunks of content munchers willing to seem cool by latching onto something deemed inherently European - Electric Daisy Carnival would have fizzled out without Paul Oakenfold, the Dub Pistols, and their ilk.
There are some positives in the near future - the gamble that MLS took this year in giving their streaming rights universally to Apple+ may eventually prove shrewd in an attempt to blanket coverage and eliminate blackouts to better universalize the sport to the cord cutting generation. Likewise, the USMNT being involved in World Cups has bolstered MLS in the past (and the reverse is also true). The year after their last cup appearance, MLS had its largest growth in cable audience at +15%. After missing in 2018, the audience fell -3%. This bodes well for 2023, (for which NYCFC absolutely should already be planning to capitalize) and as the last US hosted world cup instigated the creation of the league itself, 2027 should be another banner year for MLS. Time!
Locally, the team has gone above and beyond in its grassroots efforts to leave a positive impact in communities. This is one of the most important tenets of City Football Group that extends to all of the clubs in the umbrella, and is a priority for NYCFC. Food bank work, City in the Community leadership groups, the mini-pitch projects, and more. It is very fun and good and cathartic to stew and moan about the front office but it’s only fair to acknowledge where they’ve done right - and this is important and altruistic work the club has accomplished in eight years. But you mentioned relevance, which I will inflate into cultural local relevance, and for my personal tastes I think there are avenues untapped. The CFG procedure of pruned, sanitized, planned, and predictable has its benefits but is hard to reconcile within a city as infamously rough around the edges as NYC. A large group of ticket and merchandise buyers are families in outer boroughs, and are being catered to well, but multiple plates need to be spun to have a lasting cultural impact and half-measures aren’t gonna stick. NYC hip-hop and sports radio are cultural touchstones in the city and the country, and the team has had players interviewed on Hot 97, what, once in eight years? Minimal player appearances on local radio and podcasts? As a microcosm: Nems, the inventor of the local usage of “Bing Bong” which pulled the city along for the 2021 cup ride, was present at a game this season to engage (or whatever) the ceremonial smokestacks. No effort to tell the fans who he was? Do some video content with him? Have him say “Bing Bong” on a Twitter video? Literally a symbolic pressing of a button and that is it. NYC has the largest Hispanic population in the country. MLS has a gigantic Latino following. We have Spanish speaking players. NYCFC has a large Latino base of fans. Feels like there’s some glowing red arrows pointing to that to make a foothold that isn’t one Goya sponsored YouTube video every year.
Undeniably, American sports are star driven and social media driven. It’s the DNA of the modern viewing experience and keeps fans engaged by feeling part of the experience. NYC is a city famous for being famous. Denying organic growth, local engagement, and star-driven marketing in favor of manicured universal presence is a choice to keep things predictable and stale.
Also, winning. Winning helps.
(And a stadium.)
Is there a player on our current roster that can hold onto the 9 position long term? - BKnycfc
Trey: There is an outtake of the show The Office I quote a lot (Unrelated - I am insufferable).
Michael does an awful impression of The Scranton Strangler.
Jim asks him “What do you think?”.
Steve Carrell breaks at the general absurdity.
Since Taty left:
Heber - 10 appearances, 5 starts, 6 shots on target, 1 goal, 1.15 xG
Talles Magno - 10 appearances, 9 starts, 5 shots on target, 1 goal, 1.9 xG
None of the other players on the roster seem to have the pedigree or toolset to fit in any easier than those two. NYCFC II frankly play a somewhat 9-less system with Homegrown player Jiménez semi-converting from his usual wing spot. The team gambled that the 9 to follow Taty’s footsteps would be on the roster when choosing not to make a move there in the transfer window. The answer to this really depends on what kind of patience you have for Heber and Talles during this slump, but looking at what has been achieved in a sample size of 10 matches, I must ask:
“What do you think?”
What impact will Pellegrini have on the squad? Do you think we'll try to convert him to CF a la Taty? - NYCFCist
Kevin: Technical director David Lee likely intended Matias Pellegrini as backfill for the left wing position with the expectation Talles Magno would see significantly more minutes at center forward. That is probably still the case as NYCFC’s ceiling remains highest with Magno up top given what we’ve seen from Heber recently (-0.08 g+ above average per 96 since August 1). Even if Magno is out of the winger picture, Pellegrini will have a hard time surpassing Santi Rodriguez, Gabriel Pereira, and Thiago Andrade in the rotation unless he unearths the potential that garnered a $9 million transfer only three years ago. His first two cameos were accordingly as much wingback as they were winger while his most recent appearance was as a true left back vs. Charlotte, so Cushing is clearly open to experimenting outside his natural position. I’d still expect his primary station to remain left wing in even game states with substitute appearances at left wing/back when NYCFC are chasing the game.
That versatility would seem to destine Pellegrini as a left-sided Andres Jasson – a wide utility player who can contribute minutes at all three levels of the formation. Deploying Pellegrini as a fullback could introduce the same defensive concerns that come with Jasson there, but you’re betting on the offensive value outweighing the downside on the other side of the ball in that scenario. Whether that offensive value is there remains to be seen – Pellegrini was the second-worst winger according to g+ above average1 in his single MLS season. You’re welcome to attribute his lackluster 2020 to circumstance, being a teenager living in a new country in the midst of a crippling global pandemic has a way of affecting your work performance. Plus, who knows what was happening behind the scenes at original recipe Inter Miami but second-worst is still a red mark you don’t want to see on your record no matter the external factors.
Whether Pellegini’s versatility extends to center forward is an interesting thought exercise. There’s no evidence that’s on the table like there is with the left back option, with it already clear he’s surpassed Chris Gloster on the depth chart despite never playing there before. He does have three career appearances at center forward though, and could already be #3 in the rotation behind Magno and Heber by default. The transition from winger to striker is a familiar one for NYCFC, as pointed out by NYCFCist, but if Pellegrini follows in Taty Castellanos’ footsteps in making it, it’s more of an indictment on Magno and Heber than anything else. Neither of the center forward options are on certain enough footing (reference previous question) that it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a future where Cushing is compelled to shake things up. Let’s be honest, NYCFC are desperate for any pathway to turn this quagmire around and desperation usually leads to trying some weird stuff simply because the normal stuff just isn’t cutting it. Pellegrini playing center forward isn’t as weird as it could get, but enough so to raise some eyebrows.
Are we facing the reality that Keaton is forever damaged goods? - M
Paul: Mid-season 2022 came with plenty of doom and gloom between the departures of Ronny Deila and Taty Castellanos, but maybe none of the gut punches hit harder than the revelation that the “slight niggle” Parks was suffering was the prelude to another blood clot surgery. The first had physically devastated him, taking a full six months to begin looking like the same player he was before the injury.
First, let’s make it clear the sheer improbability of his situation. A study of La Liga players from 2005-2016 found that soccer players were, in fact, more likely to develop blood clots than the general population (hat tip to Trey Fillmore for finding this one). Despite that, over that 11-year sample only four had blood clots, all of which were treated without surgical measures. Even finding an athlete that went from blood clot surgery to continuing to play their sport is a challenge. Even then, though information for clot recurrence is limited, everything I could find says that with proper post surgery treatment the risks of recurrent clots is extremely low. Keaton Parks was an extreme outlier with the first surgery, much less two. Now he’s a modern medical marvel.
Is he damaged goods, though? It’s impossible to tell until we see him back on the field. After the first recovery there was no question he looked less physically capable, but his ability to play ball didn’t drop off. In fact, his post surgery g+/96 was the best of any similar length period in his career. It’s easy to forget now but before May, NYCFC was playing the best soccer in the league bar none. The second surgery comes with an increased physical toll - just looking at the nasty scar on his left leg (not the one the clot was in!) gives a hint to how much had to be rebuilt for him to even be out on the pitch.
I will say this - if he can recover even some of the form he had before the blood clots, and do it before October - wrap that Comeback Player of the Year trophy up and hand it to him now. There is not a player who has done more in harder circumstances this last calendar year than Keaton Parks.
The reality is that his transfer value may now be non-existent. Teams are not going to splash cash on an MLS player with such a spotty medical record, especially for an issue that may come back at any time. In that sense, maybe he is damaged goods. But does it matter? If he gets back to being as good as he has been for this team (and just to be clear - that’s best-in-the-league tier) then being able to keep him around long term works out pretty well for NYCFC.
How are they going to get out of this free fall? - SPB
Kevin: Does anybody have the contact information for the witch doctor Paul Pogba uses? Sorcery might actually be worth looking into because NYCFC have all the makings of a cursed team right now with that car-crash-in-slow-motion Thiago Martins own goal vs. FC Cincinnati the latest pieces of evidence. Since Nick Cushing took over as interim head coach, no team has suffered a less-deserved fate than NYCFC’s -9.38 non-penalty GD-xGD. The cruel and harsh variations of shot stopping and shot making have completely overshadowed a, please don’t throw anything at me, still-good team that ranks 6th in MLS in NPxGD since Cushing’s hire. Injuries to significant contributors – Keaton Parks, Alfredo Morales, Alexander Callens, Thiago Martins, Anton Tinnerholm – are not only more proof curses are real but also makes it all the more impressive that NYCFC’s underlying performance metrics haven’t completely cratered amidst this turmoil. Now, for as much as I love the numbers, I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s all good in the hood and just wait for an inevitable progression to the mean because it does look bad right now. This nightmarish run has cast a malaise at risk of transforming this team into a shell of itself, take the general suckiness against 10-men Charlotte as proof these guys being infected by the negativity. NYCFC genuinely looks like the manifestation of Keanu Reeves’ quicksand description from The Replacements, trying so hard to do everything right for things to only get worse and worse.
Getting out of that rut first requires getting healthy and at least NYCFC are close to doing that, with three of the aforementioned injured group back on the gameday squad though their returns have yet to turn the tides. Then if someone, anyone, on the roster could step up to fill even 75% of the Taty Castellanos-sized black hole at the striker position, you might be able to re-formulate the remnants of the team that won MLS Cup. Replacing Castellanos internally has been predictably impossible so that crucial component of the fix may have to wait for the offseason, *whispers* even though it should have happened already. Ultimately, this current team, if physically and mentally healthy, isn’t as bad as recent memory suggests. MLS is also a forgiving league so a can-do attitude and some curse lifting could still push NYCFC into a competitive playoff team that probably gets rolled by Philadelphia in a best-case scenario. Otherwise, a fancy new 9 and the reliable turn-it-off-and-turn-it-back-on IT trick that the offseason allows could be the reset that NYCFC truly needs.
What do you think is the main cause of the defensive drop off the last few months? Is it more injuries or tactics? - John Santoro
Kevin: It’s probably a little bit of both, but the injuries have to be considered the predominant factor because tactics changed due to who was available to Nick Cushing. The first domino to fall wasn’t an injury per say but a player absence nevertheless, with Taty Castellanos’ departure initiating the precipitous drop in NYCFC’s high pressure rate. Gearing down the defensive aggression after losing the best pressing forward in recent MLS history isn’t an unreasonable change, especially when you do it during the hottest months of the year and are trying to manage a rash of injuries. But a more conservative defense means more sustained opposition possession in your own half and that is where the injuries really come into play.
A fully healthy group could have capably managed extended sequences of mid-low block defense but NYCFC have been far from fully healthy for a long time now. If I asked you to chose a defensive group (double pivot + backline) on the day Cushing was hired, you’d probably pick Keaton Parks and Alfredo Morales as your holding midfielders with Malte Amundsen, Alexander Callens, one of Maxime Chanot or Thiago Martins, and soon-to-return Anton Tinnerholm as your backline. Seven of those eight players have missed substantial time in the interim. Even if Cushing devised the perfect game plan with what remained, you can’t tactics your way out of that much injury. Whether Cushing’s tactical changes are justified is an entirely separate conversation though, and it’s something we might take a deeper dive on as a standalone piece.
Did NYCFC miss out on a star in Taxi Fountas? - M
Chris: In the age of rideshares, Taxis are incredibly outdated, though I will admit the Curb app is pretty awesome. But NYCFC definitely missed out on a breadth of marketing opportunities in bringing in a guy whose first name is shared with one of the historical icons of New York City.
Was Mitriță the worst signing ever? - M
Chris: Quite possibly yes, mostly considering the Designated Player tag status that he carried along with the high transfer fee to bring him in. While he had incredible talent (still the only NYCFC player to score a hat trick without a penalty kick goal, in one half nonetheless), he never really fit into the squad from a tactical perspective. But let’s revisit some other honorable mentions.
Adam Nemec - He was supposed to be David Villa’s striker partner up top in Jason Kreis’ favored 4-4-2 formation but completely fell out of favor. He barely lasted half a season in the Bronx.
George John - Was he ever even signed? Nobody will ever know
John Stertzer - Yeah, he was a bottom of the roster signing so not a whole lot of expectations. But I’m pretty sure he’s still the only player in NYCFC history to be subbed on and then subsequently subbed off. And this was before MLS moved to 5 substitutions per game.
Eloi Amagat - Just kidding actually. He was a much better player than NYCFC fans think of him as the red card against Red Bulls clouds memories. Eloi ended up 6th in non-interrupting Goals Added per 96 minutes for NYCFC in the 2018 season and even led the team in passing g+ per 96.
Sands and Taty are starting off well at Rangers and Girona respectively. I'm curious on your outlook (club and player future-wise) on what happens if from this point:
Both do extremely well and get signed
One flops, other does great
Both flop, return to NYCFC
Do you think in any of the latter scenarios we would see new players be hesitant to join? (Though to be clear, my actual question is how do you think the above scenarios will affect the club and player-base we currently have i.e. other players being looked at because Sands did well etc.) - giraffeman3705
Paul: It has been made absolutely clear over the last year that City Football Group will not play the transfer market the way other teams do. There seems to be little to no negotiation; either you meet the terms CFG wants, or you don’t. There’s also an institutional patience built in, as they will simply loan a player like Mitriță indefinitely rather than give him away on a free. The pressure that governs other organizations does not exist for CFG.
For both Sands and Taty, neither player was receiving the kind of attention that would lead to a transfer amount acceptable for CFG. Despite this, their commitment to taking care of their players led them to accept short term losses on and off the field to do right by the two of them. This is a net benefit for the organization, as they make it clear they are willing to sacrifice to help out the players that sign for them.
At the current moment, it looks like the gamble is paying off. Sands has locked down a starting role with Rangers, now in the Champions League. Taty has had a more quiet start to the year at Girona but nonetheless looks every bit like he belongs in La Liga. Girona are much worse relative to their competition than NYCFC, so it’s unlikely Taty will put up similar numbers, but as long as he provides solid contribution and helps Girona stay up the move will be a success.
Turning to the three scenarios, it is of course in NYCFC’s best interest for both players to show their quality. Rangers have the option to pay $6 million and sign Sands permanently, and while that would still be quite steep for the Scottish Premier League - the most expensive Rangers signing since Ryan Kent in 2019 - he certainly could justify the fee with high quality play. As for Taty, the deal is structured in such a way that while NYCFC will receive relatively little for this move, a subsequent move could see them make a significant profit. A successful season in La Liga could see him move up the ladder quickly.
If one or both have miserable seasons, I still don’t think they will return to NYCFC. They have accomplished what they set out to in MLS. Moving back would simply set them further back on their desired career paths.
Would it hurt NYCFC’s ability to recruit talent if both do poorly? I doubt it. We’ve seen plenty of examples of NYCFC products making their way in Europe by now. Jack Harrison, Angelino, Yangel Herrera, and even Jesus Medina (8 G+A in 8 games for CSKA Moscow) show that NYCFC is certainly capable of producing real talent. There are many reasons a player might make it or not, but there is no question that NYCFC has provided a platform for success in Europe beyond almost any other team in MLS.
Could they be more aggressive in the market? Absolutely. Look at what FC Dallas does; flipping players back and forth with Bayern on trials, loudly advocating for national team call ups for mediocre players, and working with American owners overseas to leverage deals far and above what players bring to a team. In the last year, they sold Bryan Reynolds to Roma for $7 million, Tanner Tessmann to Venezia for $4 million, and Ricardo Pepi to Augsburg for $18 million. That’s almost $30 million dollars of sales, and doesn’t even include Justin Che’s loan to Hoffenheim with an option to buy. A year later, every one of those moves has turned out poorly. Tessmann struggles in Serie B, Reynolds is spending his loan to KVC Westerlo on the bench, and Pepi has gone a calendar year without a goal. Next time FC Dallas has players in the shop window, teams will remember what happened. NYCFC is completely unafraid to play the long game, bolstered by bottomless pockets of the ownership group. This will be the right call in the long run.
Who among the crew would make the best manager and what would be their style or ethos/identity as a coach? - Kristian Heneage
Kevin: This is a great question. It’s such a great question in fact that everyone in the group was hesitant to answer it and/or choose a single one of us as best. We did have some fun talking about what all of our styles would be though and NYCFC Tactics dropped this grenade of a list into our Slack channel.
Tactics - The Tinkerer
Paul - Empathetically Data Driven
Justin - Relegation Specialist
Kevin - Pep Disciple
John - Mourinho 2.0
Trey - South American Player Development Specialist
Chris - Midwestern Grit
Not all were thrilled with their label, John for example, who only offered a “wtf” when realizing he was pegged as a Mourinho redux. I personally am still considering this list 100% canon because the ethos I got tagged is absurdly flattering. NYCFC Tactics did make it clear that being a Pep disciple does not mean I would be good at it and I can’t agree with that more. The only things that I could possibly do as well as the poorest man’s version of Pep is being overly demonstrative with hand motions and aggressively drinking water when uncomfortable.
Everyone in the group does have useful qualities for management though. Chris’ teams would have the great set piece conversion rate in the history of the sport. Paul would compile compendiums of scouting reports on his own players and opponents alike, I’m talking Marcelo Bielsa levels of preparation and detail. NYCFC Tactics coached teams would have such a tactical diversity that opponent coaches would be challenged to prepare for them. Trey would undoubtedly relate to and be liked by his players the most. And Justin would be best at managing the locker room. But if we’re asking who would be the best manager of the crew, it’s me. Why? Because we’d all get fired quickly anyway but I would at least look the best on the sideline in our short time in charge.❧
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Image: Henri Voordecker, In The Dovecote
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