NYCFC shake the post-Taty Castellanos blues by beating Chicago Fire
New York City FC could see the headlines churning.
2021 Golden Boot presented by Audi winner and MLS Best XI forward Taty Castellanos departed for Girona on July 25 after scoring six goals and one assist in his final five matches, and suddenly the defending MLS Cup champions were vulnerable. Their 0-3-1 record in their four matches since Taty’s departure opened them up to questions, but on Sunday, interim head coach Nick Cushing felt like his team answered.
Already well above the playoff line, NYCFC saw the Philadelphia Union and CF Montréal move into the top two spots in the Eastern Conference in recent weeks, but with the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs just eight games away, the Cityzens were falling out of form and needed to get back on track. Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire at SeatGeek Stadium was just the reaction they needed.
“Of course we have to be realistic. There’s going to be a reaction to Taty leaving,” Cushing said. “I don’t think it was as big as people are making it out because we didn’t win a game. We continued to score goals and we continued to have really good performances whether we played Talles (Magno) up there or whether we played Heber. … People will look towards Taty leaving as a reason for a bump in the road, but for us it’s just about working hard and we now have a group of players who have weathered the storm of a difficult period and got a clean sheet on the road.”
While the forwards have contributed of late, Sunday’s win was highlighted by the midfield.
Gabriel Pereira scored the first goal in the 16th minute – a wondrous strike from 25 yards out that caught Chicago’s defense flat-footed for his sixth goal of the season – and Santiago Rodriguez put the game away in opening moments of the second half with his third goal of the year to go with 11 assists.
“I actually thought it was a masterclass from Santiago Rodriguez. With and without the ball I felt his performance was as good as it gets,” Cushing said. “He’ll feel he could play better but for me it was probably one of our best performances of the season.”
The win came against a Chicago team that was below the playoff line, but had been playing like a postseason team in recent weeks, winning four of its previous six matches entering play on Sunday.
While nobody can be expected to match the scoring output of Castellanos, Cushing is confident that he has the tools at his disposal and the mentality in his locker room to make a run at a second-consecutive MLS Cup title.
“The biggest takeaway?” he said with a long pause for effect. “It was a real team performance tonight.”
WATCH: NYCFC snap skid, topple Chicago to stay firmly in playoff chase