NYCFC’s loss to Columbus felt familiar.
It was the fourth 2-1 defeat of the season — and second consecutive defeat by that scoreline — but more broadly showcased the team’s worrying trend of dominating without winning.
Saturday was the sixth time this season (four losses, two draws) that the team has dropped points despite winning on xG, per FBref. A sour combination of bad luck (see: conceding long-range goals) and poor finishing (see: Taty Castellanos’ recent form) is largely the culprit for those misfortunes.
But if the Columbus game felt like a bleak case of deja vu, there was at least one silver lining to take from the game: Thiago Andrade.
Since making his MLS debut vs. New England on June 19, the young Brazilian has hardly put a foot wrong. He scored in his first two appearances — including an absurd solo effort vs. D.C. United to win the game — and was dangerous in the matchup against the Crew last weekend.
With Castellanos continuing to misfire and Jesus Medina hauled off in the 65th minute, the newly-signed 20-year-old looked like the best chance of a New York City equalizer as the game wore on.
Andrade was a constant and effective outlet on the left, and ended the game with the joint-most successful dribbles and attacking penalty area touches on the team. He also carried the ball a progressive distance of 194 yards toward the opposing goal, the most of anyone on the team and an apt marker of his attacking intent.
Beyond the numbers, Thiago’s performance looked and felt extremely mature, and the young Brazilian suddenly feels much closer to an important player than a luxury or depth piece.
Castellanos is scoreless in his last eight games, Heber shouldn’t be expected back anytime soon, and compatriot Talles Magno is also out for now with knee problems.
Add that to the team’s current form — three losses in five games, with Sean Johnson and James Sands potentially missing three more games on USMNT duty — and what should be a period of acclimation for the young foreigner may soon resemble trial by fire.
Not that that should be a problem.
“They can expect a lot of fight from me,” Andrade said in his first interview with the club.
With stern tests vs. Montreal on Wednesday and Orlando looming, New York City will need just that.
A good problem for Gerhard Struber to have
When Andrew Gutman was forced out of action after just four games with a knee injury — not thought to be too serious at the time — it opened the door for an untested teenager to get his shot at left back.
John Tolkin has filled in admirably in his first six MLS starts, helping to shepherd a patchwork defense to three wins and two draws, and earning a Team of the Week nod in Week 12.
What could have been a hugely damaging loss — Gutman hasn’t played since May — has instead been a successful audition for Tolkin, who has made a positive impression beyond his ever-changing hairstyle.
Now, Gutman could be set for a return to the lineup, or at least the field, as he’s listed as questionable for Wednesday’s clash at Toronto.
Don’t expect Gutman to be rushed back into the fold without match fitness, but Struber could soon have a legitimate left back competition on his hands.
Picking between them may be an unenviable task, but the apparent depth is a sign of the project the coach is building.
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