On Wednesday night, a record-setting season for New York City FC came to an end in the 90th minute of the team’s Eastern Conference semi-final against No. 5 seed Toronto FC at Citi Field.
Alejandro Pozuelo’s chip shot penalty sent Toronto to its third conference final in four years, 2-1.
A sloppy tackle from behind by Ronald Matarrita on TFC’s Richie Laryea in the box sent the visitors to the spot. After the foul and subsequent successful penalty Matarrita was seen pulling his jersey over his face in complete shock as the East’s top team fell in quarterfinals for the fourth straight year.
“It’s not good enough for us, it’s a hard time right now for the players” NYCFC head coach Domènec Torrent told media after the game.
It’s hard to believe how City’s season turned out when looking at it in pieces. Going win-less until its seventh game but picking up points in five draws, not losing between April 6 and July 7 in a span of 12 games, having the fourth-best defense in terms of goals allowed across the league and more all combine to make what was the best season the club has had since entering MLS back in 2015.
The semi-final on Wednesday night practically followed this same sort of pattern. The name of the game early for New York City FC was inconsistency. Early minutes of the match were spent trying to keep up with a Toronto side on short rest dominating the sides of the field and bring the ball into Sean Johnson’s range. Then in the second half after going down a goal off poor defending, the team put itself in the driver’s seat and equalized off a bullet scissor kick by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
The team’s biggest issue in the early parts of the game was neglecting the left side of its own end where players such as Rónald Matarrita and Alexandru Mitriță were getting overrun constantly. The second half being more in its favor for a majority of the 45 minutes without any defensive subs was a testament to adaptability on the team’s part.
New York was the kind of team that could have won the game in extra time but it wasn’t to be. So now the biggest question is where do they go from here?
Torrent is in year two of his three-year contract that runs until the end of the 2020 season. However, after the game, he spoke a bit candidly about his frustrations this season not only with how it ended but how it operated. Following the departure of the team’s first-ever captain and all-time leading scorer David Villa the club was without a striker, something the coach talked about along with the team’s budget having space.
“I need to talk about it in Manchester because this season was a tough, tough season for us, for everybody,” Torrent said in a post-game press conference. “Many things happened this year, but people don’t know that. But we were able to win the Eastern Conference. We [are] in the middle in the budget. People don’t know that. I don’t know. We needed one striker in the first six or seven games, I don’t know.”
Looking forward, it doesn’t seem as though City is in danger of losing most of its essential core. City’s 2018 Defender of the Year Anton Tinnerholm signed a new multi-year deal back in September to cement his place in the Bronx while Brazilian striker Héber leads the team in goals (15) in only his first season since coming over from Croatian side HNK Rijeka. Add onto it older but vital pieces such as Maxime Chanot, first-year team captain Alexander Ring, and Sean Johnson in goals shows the team has vital pieces but will be looking for something to put it over the edge in 2020. However, I don’t think that comes without Torrent.
The Spanish gaffer has been key in turning the club around in his two seasons from league push-overs to standout side. The team won its first title (conference) this season under him and broke a curse in regards to one-game exits in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as the team reach the Quarterfinals and took the game to penalty kicks against Orlando City SC.
Despite the loss of a striker in Villa, Torrent’s early struggles were seen in trying to play around that. As the season progressed more players, such as Héber and midfielder Valentín Castellanos, began to pick up the workload. His work developing the midfield and front lines, while also keeping the team one of the hardest to score on in the league, is only part of the reason why he was nominated for the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year award this season.
Axing Torrent with one year left in his contract, or allowing him to leave due to frustrations, would be devastating to a club that seems to be on the brink of becoming an Eastern Conference finalist or more. Though the man himself believes even if something were to happen to him the club would be perfectly fine.
“(The players) are the reason why New York City play really well, not Dome,” he told media towards the end of his press conference. “Forget about it. Dome has one idea. Every single coach needs the players to follow you and the players follow me. I’m very proud of the players.
“I want to thank the players, every single day, every single training session they fight until the last moment. I love these players. I love these players.”
City enters the off-season with multiple players finishing as finalists for league awards with Johnson and Héber being nominated for Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year and Newcomer of the Year respectively.
It will be making its debut in international competition in early 2020 as it takes part in the 2020 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.