Discover more from The Outfield
Reshuffling the Deck: Evaluating NYCFC’s New Signings Julián Fernández and Alonso Martínez
Fans got a quick glimpse of what Julián Fernández can bring to the NYCFC attack, can he and fellow winger transfer-in Alonso Martínez right the chance-creation ship?
Over a 48-hour timespan in mid-July, New York City Football Club raked in a reported $27 million across two transfers. The first of those transfers was the anticipated departure of star striker Taty Castellanos to Lazio. The question was always been not if but when and where Taty would be sold.
The second transfer came out of left field when top scorer Gabriel Pereira unceremoniously departed for Qatari side Al-Rayyan SC despite NYCFC being in the midst of its worst offensive season in club history. With the club ranking fourth-worst in the league in expected goals (xG) per game, losing their most productive attacker midseason without an immediate replacement was understandably met with dissatisfaction by the NYCFC faithful.
The Outfield is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
New York City attempted to remedy those worries within a three-day span as the transfer window closed, with the signings of wingers Julián Fernández and Alonso Martínez. Fernández signed for a reported $6.5m from Argentinian club Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield, while Martínez came via a free transfer from fellow City Football Group club Lommel SK in the Belgian second division.
As NYCFC teeters on the edge of potential elimination from postseason contention, the club is in dire need of Fernández and Martínez to step up to the proverbial plate to help mitigate the production losses of Castellanos and Pereira. Without their impactful involvement, NYCFC’s journey across the playoff line remains uncertain.
Can Julián Fernández Replace GP?
Julián Fernández began his career with Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield at the age of 18, sharing the locker room with Uruguayan legend Diego Godin. In two seasons in the Argentine first division, the left-footed attacker played well enough to earn a callup to the Argentina U20 squad for the 2023 CONMEBOL Sudamericano U-20 Championship.
Unjust as it may be, Fernández is bound to draw comparisons to the player he’s replacing, Gabriel Pereira. Both play a similar position, arrived in NYC at a similar age, and had similar transfer fees shelled out by City Football Group.
Although he has a threatening shot of his own, Fernández doesn’t have the quick trigger or shooting quality that Pereira possessed. Pereira was adept at receiving the ball just in front of the defense and engaging in one-on-one battles with defenders, whereas Fernández's strengths lie in his ability to make runs that exploit spaces behind the defense. Defensively, Fernández appears to display a high level of activity compared to Pereira. While it may take him some time to understand the appropriate positioning in NYCFC’s system, once acclimated, he should be a key cog in slowing down the opposing attack.
What Fernández Brings
His talent is instantly recognizable. Possessing a deadly left foot, Fernández is capable of striking the ball well from distance. He adeptly finds pockets of space, positioning himself in dangerous positions to create chances for himself or teammates.
The Argentine’s distinctive trait is his movement. Most of his goal contributions come from making diagonal runs from the wing exploiting spaces behind and in between the opposing backline. He also combines well with teammates, anticipating where space will materialize as defenders react to ball movement. He is able to utilize give-and-go passing to make quick, decisive runs into these pockets immediately after a pass, leveraging his impressive speed and agility to consistently generate quality attacking sequences through his movement.
Defensively, Fernández possesses a high work rate. He is active in pressuring the ball both in the defensive phase and counter-pressing in defensive transition. Over the last calendar year, Fernández ranked third in defensive duels, second in successful defensive actions, and first in interceptions among wingers per 90 minutes in the Argentine first division league1. His defensive tenacity is reminiscent of the last Argentine player to wear the #11 kit for NYCFC.
Work Still to Do
Fernández is as left-footed as they come, as evident in his debut for NYCFC against Minnesota United. In one particular instance, he beat his man to the end-line, delivering a cross. However, instead of utilizing his right foot, he opted for an awkward left-footed rabona. And perhaps even more indicative of his one-footedness was that his only right-footed action was a half-volley attempt that missed an open net following a rebound off a Santiago Rodriguez shot.
Despite his tall, 6-foot stature, Fernández is not the most physically robust player out on the wing. There are instances where he can get bodied off the ball a bit too easily and others where he can be too sloppy in possession when facing pressure in tight spaces. Interestingly, despite his height, Vélez would often opt to have Fernández outside of the box when defending corners or free kicks.
How Fernández Fits
Adding verticality was one of the main objectives NYCFC achieved when adding Mounsef Bakrar, aiming to create space for their winger and attacking midfield positions. Fernández will also be able to add directness with his diagonal runs behind the defense. However, his versatility extends beyond this, as he’s also clever enough to know when to drop into the midfield and pull a defender along with him, consequently opening up space behind for the striker.
With the departure of Gabriel Pereira, NYCFC had no left-footed players capable of taking a threatening free kick. While Fernández has not scored or assisted from free kicks during his time in Argentina, he did demonstrate the ability to go for goal directly and provide quality service into the box in indirect kick situations.
Transitioning to a new club in a new country midseason is a tough task, especially for a 19-year old. But with fellow countryman Maxi Moralez as a mentor to aid his adaptation, perhaps Fernández will become the best known Julián in the five boroughs since Julian ‘Frankenstein’ McGrath.
Alonso Martínez: The Two-Sided Tico
Hailing from Costa Rica, Alonso Martínez began his career in his native country with Guadalupe FC before moving to Primera División powerhouse LD Alajuelense2 and eventually crossing the Atlantic to Lommel SK. His trajectory saw him adapt to different roles and positions, showcasing his versatility and goal-scoring prowess.
While at Guadalupe, the right-footed attacker spent most of his time operating on the left wing, managing an impressive average of 0.59 goals per 90 minutes in the 2019-2020 season. Once Martínez moved to Alajuelense, he predominantly featured as a right-winger, where he found a different kind of success, bagging 5 goals and 5 assists across 1,204 minutes, equating to a goal involvement every three-quarters of a game.
After joining Lommel, Martínez demonstrated his adaptability by contributing goals and assists from both wing positions. His effectiveness often stems from quick ball progressions, where he deftly maintains ball control using his strength to fend off physical defenders and displays the awareness to find runners getting into dangerous areas.
Martínez finds most of his success in transition. He excels in setting up teammates with a well-weighted through ball, making runs to the back post to finish off a cross, or using the movement of runners to open up space for him to curl in a shot.
Martínez’s ability to provide goal contributions from either flank furnishes NYCFC’s attacking line with a level of versatility that NYCFC previously lacked. While the club boasts talent at the winger position, no one else shows the quality to score on both sides of the pitch. Typically, a right-footed right-winger is tasked with sending crosses into the box. However, Martínez’s approach is not contingent on the side he occupies. He is just as capable of cutting inside and delivering the final pass into the box, or finding space to shoot from either the left or right side.
Martínez’s positional flexibility provides head coach Nick Cushing tactical options for critical late game situations. However, the larger question for Cushing is whether the Costa Rican can work against a low block when chasing a goal. Martínez’s early career successes have largely been orchestrated in transition before the opposing defense can get organized. It will be up to the manager to provide Alonso the best spots to provide impact minutes.
Can Fernández and Martínez Solve the Attack?
Over the course of the last 16 matches in the regular season, NYCFC's goal tally has stagnated at just 13. Despite the addition of a true No. 9 in Bakrar, the team has continued to lack dynamic play from the wings. Following Pereira’s departure, NYCFC have scored just five goals from the wing. Without goal-scoring threats coming from the wings, opposing defenses will able to key in on Bakrar, neutralizing the impact of the much anticipated addition at striker.
After NYCFC added center back Birk Risa in the transfer window, and his ability to ping long balls to the opposite wing, bringing in quality options at right wing was a necessity. Long passes from the left center back to the right wing are only as dangerous as the player receiving the ball.
The question now is whether these changes have been enacted too late to salvage NYCFC's season. Of the two new wingers, Fernández is the most promising, but is young and raw. Conversely, it is uncertain how much Cushing rates Martínez as the Costa Rican has managed just seven minutes of playing time since arriving in the Big Apple.
While it is possible the two newcomers can spark the attack towards a playoff push, it is likely that they will require more time to assimilate into the squad fully. The full potential of these two transfers may only be realized in the 2024 season. ❧
Image: Apollonio di Giovanni, The Battle of Pharsalus and the Death of Pompey
minimum 1,000 minutes played
Yes, that is former club of Ronald Matarrita.