MLS Roundup: Here Comes NYCFC
After starting the season with one win in its first five matches, NYCFC has finally demonstrated why this team is the reigning MLS Cup holders. Ronny Deila and his squad have netted a jaw-dropping 14 goals in the last three matches and now sit in the top five of the Eastern Conference. LAFC continues its reign at the top of the Western Conference with two late goals against Minnesota United. Matt Turner finally returned for the Revolution, and New England was able to put together just its second clean sheet of the entire season against Inter Miami. The Galaxy falls behind at the top of the Western Conference with a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake as three teams in the West are all knotted up at 16 total points. Sebastián Ferreira's wondergoal in the first five minutes of the match from midfield was not enough to take down Austin FC on their home turf. The Major League Soccer regular season rolls on into the month of May as one of the most competitive soccer leagues in the entire world continues to live up to all the hype it has created.
Following the second-half performance to propel NYCFC to a win, head coach Ronny Delia expressed his thoughts, stating, "I think it was our best performance this year...I think Maxi and Gabriel changed the game by finding spaces...We changed into a really offensive formation because we had Keaton (Parks) and Santi (Rodríguez) as the two sixes and Maxi as a ten...Gabriel’s left foot is fantastic...He has shown it twice in two games. He is adapting to the style, in training, and everything in a very good way. He’s already had a very big influence on the games."
The defending MLS Cup had one of the most memorable postseason runs of recent history as the club won two penalty shootouts in order to hoist the MLS Cup at the end of the season. With star Argentine forward Valentín Castellanos confirmed to be heading back to the club for another year, the expectations were high. It would not be hard-pressed to say that NYCFC was the favorite to top the Eastern Conference at the beginning of the season. After losing back-to-back matches despite dominating possession in both fixtures, and being eliminated in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, things were not looking up. It was early in the season, and Delia and his squad knew that eventually the talent and quality of their roster would prove dividends. Since the four-goal performance by Castellanos, NYCFC has not looked back with the focus on righting the ship, before it sinks and it's too late.
Delia's creativity to adapt on the fly and put his team in the best position to win each match was demonstrated in his adjustments against the Earthquakes this past weekend. Slotting in Gabriel Pereira, and Maximiliano Moralez in the midfield with just over 20 minutes left to play gave San Jose a different look for its backline. Both substitutes found those spaces in and around the Earthquakes' defense to unlock a team that made some remarkable stops in the first half of play.
19-year-old Talles Magno has been the most elusive, and efficient in the attack for NYCFC since he arrived from CR Vasco da Gama in 2021. He may not be the premier goal scorer, but his ability to create chances for his side is something that Delia and the club just simply cannot put a number one. NYCFC's plethora of talent off the bench combined with its ability to adapt make this team so dangerous heading into the rest of the season, as they could still be the favorites to finish on top of the East.
In Nashville on Sunday, Nashville SC opened up the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States, or Canada against the team at the top of the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Union. Over 30,000 people came out sporting yellow at the brand-new GEODIS Park that was originally supposed to debut two seasons ago, but due to delays, the club had to wait even longer to break history. While the contest ended in a 1-1 draw, the more important aspect of the game was the evolution of the game of soccer in the United States. Nashville paves the way for the rest of the league to grow the sport into a more prominent game in the United States. This could potentially be the first of many soccer-specific parks as the Kansas City Current has plans to build the first female soccer-specific stadium in the US with the opening somewhere around 2024.
Nashville struck the woodwork twice in the opening six minutes as the crowd was hungry for their side to break the ice in its new future home. Andre Blake was a wall between the sticks for the Union, but he was just a little too slow as Randell Leal slotted home the equalizer and the first-ever goal for Nashville SC at its new park. The environment and the electricity were as if Nashville was in a playoff match in the fall. Gary Smith and his team were no doubt the better squad as a whole, but the struggle for Nashville continues to be preventing danger against set-pieces. If Smith can find a way to clean that up, this club will be well on its way to winning at a more consistent clip.
After Ferreira caught goalkeeper Brad Stuver off of his line, the Dynamo looked on track to end Austin FC's brilliant run of play recently. The 28-year-old Andrew Tarbell came on to replace the injured Stuver after the play, and fit in seamlessly. He made some quality saves to keep Austin FC in the match in the first half. With the offensive firepower that Austin FC has at its disposal, one goal by the Dynamo was not going to be enough. The highest-scoring team in Major League Soccer responded in the only way they know how. The first overall pick of the 2021 MLS Draft, Daniel Pereira netted the first goal of his potentially illustrious career in an Austin FC uniform. Sebastián Driussi netted an absolute cracker of a goal in the 66' minute to give Austin FC the lead. It was the third straight match in the MLS that Druissi scored a goal as he continues to cement himself at the top of the leaderboard for goals in Major League Soccer.
The separation at the top of each conference continues to be minimal as clubs continue to figure out what their fate will be heading into the fourth month of the regular season. From teams elevating their games to clubs still trying to find their stride, an MLS postseason spot is still open for anyone who is willing to take it. If this week in Major League Soccer taught the world anything, it is that this league is here to stay, and is willing to make history in order to solidify itself on the world stage.