Match Preview: NYCFC at MNUFC

Back in the day, the NASL split its season into two parts. I won’t say “halves,” because there usually were far more games in the fall season than the spring season; the break was almost always timed to coincide with the June international break.

I tell you this so that I can write that MNUFC closes out its “first half” with a home game against NYCFC, tonight at 7pm, even though the season’s nowhere near half over. The Loons get a three-week break after this one, excepting a friendly against Germany’s SC Paderborn on June 11 – a friendly that’s also notable because it’s the Loons’ only home game between Memorial Day weekend and July 4th weekend.

This one’s on Bally Sports North and Channel 23. Also it is on SKOR North 1500AM, on the radio. I’m very taken by the idea of a family gathering around the ol’ radio on a Saturday night, tuning into the Loons game.

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No team works harder to score one goal than MNUFC.

This is just a gut feeling; it’s like the Loons have to absolutely kill themselves just to get a scoring chance, and then they have to get six or seven of those just to get a single goal.

I think the reason it feels this way is that the Loons’ attack is technical, but not particularly fast. None of the regular attacking players are slow, but Bongokuhle Hlongwane is the only one that is likely to use his speed as a weapon, and he hasn’t yet developed top-level technical skill.

The typical MNUFC attack starts with Emanuel Reynoso. He has to beat a defender off the dribble – he’s elite at this – but then either the pass goes to a wide forward, who has to beat another defender just to get a cross in, or to a fullback, who has just sprinted eighty yards to get into the attack.

Sometimes the ball goes back to the midfielders, who are at that point usually staring at eight defenders and five attackers in the final third; it’d be hard to complete a pass even they were throwing a football.

The Loons press a lot, and get a decent number of turnover opportunities – but as mentioned, none of those attackers are really a threat to dash in behind the defense, even on the counter-attack.

Against NYCFC’s ball-controlling offense (they’re second in the league in possession, according to FBRef.com), the Loons are likely to have to work to create opportunities in transition. Keep an eye on whether those turn into shots, and goals.

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NYCFC would be a lot more likeable if they were terrible.

It’s just way, way more enjoyable when an expansion team comes in and is terrible, especially when they’re grandly funded. Inter Miami provided years of enjoyment by both missing the playoffs AND secretly signing five designated players, a ruse that was both obvious at the time and easily discovered by the league office after the season. Going back a little farther, Chivas USA took an extremely interesting idea (give Mexican fans a team to get behind in the United States) and immediately torpedoed it by making it an unfavored outpost of the most divisive team in North America. Successful? No. Funny? Absolutely.

NYCFC is part of the City Football Group, and is thus the hybrid offspring of a few things that have conspired to ruin the world (in ascending order of destructiveness: Manchester City, the Middle Eastern oil industry, and the New York Yankees.)

Put it all together, and it would bring everyone great joy if they were terrible, year after year.

Instead they make the playoffs every single year, and they won MLS Cup last year, which they celebrated by printing out a banner on their inkjet and taping it to the side of a Yankee Stadium suite.

They’re good again this year, trailing only LAFC on points per game. Taty Castellanos is among the best players in the league, won the Golden Boot last year, and has scored seven goals this year. Half their team is hurt and yet they keep just plowing forward. They’ve won six of their last seven, and drew the other one.

It’s all just very annoying.

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What happened last time?

It’s been a really, really long time since the Loons and the Pigeons played – April 13, 2019, the first-ever game at Allianz Field. It was a real barn-burner in the new barn, featuring two goals for each side in an eight-minute span of the first half, starting with Ozzie Alonso whipping a volley out of nowhere for the first goal at the new stadium.

Not twenty minutes after the first goal, Sean Johnson allowed the worst goal at the new stadium, letting a back-pass roll under his foot and into the net.

It ended 3-3 after a second-half NYCFC equalizer. This was long enough ago that Francisco Calvo started for the Loons that day, with Rasmus Schuller on the bench… alongside Abu Danladi when he was wearing number 99. Ángelo Rodríguez also scored for the Loons that day. So long ago. Ah, memories.

What do the numbers say?

0.69 – Expected goals per 96 minutes for Castellanos, second in MLS among players who have played 500 minutes this year (according to American Soccer Analysis). Castellanos trails only Patryk Klimala, from the Red Bulls.

1.73 – Goals added above average for winger Talles Magno, also according to ASA. Magno, not Castellanos, is the NYC player that ranks highest in this metric.

2.90 – The difference in goals added above average for Dayne St. Clair (6.30, first among MLS keepers) above Sean Johnson (3.40, still good for third in the league, giving you some idea how far ahead of the pack St. Clair has been this season.)

979 – Touches for Emanuel Reynoso this season, third in MLS. You’re never going to believe who’s first: Francisco Calvo, who has 1090!

Prediction

NYC is one of the best teams in the league. Minnesota lost to a third-division team on Wednesday.

This is still MLS, where absolutely nothing makes any sense at all. MNUFC 4, NYCFC 0.

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