New York City Interim Head Coach Nick Cushing says intensity will be crucial in his side's bid for back-to-back playoff success.
The Boys in Blue travel to CF Montréal in the last eight of the 2022 post-season tournament, full of confidence as the squad look to defend our trophy and continue our superb recent run of form.
The reigning MLS Cup Champions have recorded a five-game winning streak, comfortably defeating Inter Miami CF last time out with a complete performance on Monday night - a display Cushing says has further strengthened his players' belief, spirit and determination heading into the crunch period of the campaign.
“It's about making sure the players are prepared, but also making sure that they're hungry and that they have a huge desire to go into the Montréal game and put in a performance,” he declared.
“You’ve got to trust and rely on the players that they will do everything that they can do within the process that we work in – and us as staff put in place – to be fresh and to be hungry.
“I think that we've done that really well, leading into the last four games. We've done the same this week – we follow the same process, we follow the same principles and for us, it's about freshness.
“The most pleasing part of the game [on Monday] was the intensity that we played. The performance was key for us to continue to grow in confidence, to continue to grow in performance
“We played at our intensity and if we play to that intensity with and without the ball, we know we can make the game difficult for the opposition.
“There were parts of the game at the start that we felt we defended well, but we were in positions in places that we don't want to be in, in the Montréal game, and we will continue to grow and continue to work.
“We have another day tomorrow and we will continue to focus on making sure that we go into the Montréal game fully prepared.”
New York head into this weekend’s encounter with a strong record against the Canadian side, unbeaten in all bar two of our 16 meetings and having cruised to a 4-1 win on home soil in March.
However, Montréal have enjoyed an impressive campaign in the Eastern Conference, finishing one place above City in the regular season table, and Cushing warned of a difficult challenge at Stade Saputo.
“They’re a really good team,” he stated. “You have to try and stop them causing you problems in and around your box.
“We were probably better in the nil-nil game [away] at defending because if you look at the goal they scored in the home game, they put us under pressure at Yankee Stadium for a good five, ten minutes. Our third goal – Talles’ header – really killed the game and gave us momentum because that game was looking like it was going to go to 2-2.
“They brought [Đorđe] Mihailović on at half-time and they started to overload our right side, and we had Andres [Jasson] at right-back, who is not a natural right-back. They started to create chances and although we scored four, it was a really difficult game.
“We defended really well at Montréal but the problem was: we didn’t have enough of the ball. We know they’re a team that want to keep the ball, they want to play out with the back three and they try and play through [Samuel] Piette and [Victor] Wanyama.
“For us, it’s about trying to deny them space – whether it’s in and around our goal and we sit low, or whether we can try and get out and push high.
“It’s about not being pulled apart and trying not to have that period we had at Yankee Stadium where they put us under a lot of pressure.”
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Sharing an update on the latest team news, Cushing also revealed NYCFC have received a welcome boost ahead of the game with Talles Magno back in contention, and Tayvon Gray pushing to feature.
“Talles trained this morning so yesterday and today,” he said. “It’s really positive that he’s had two days of training, and he’s back in the squad.
“Tayvon just had a fitness test. We’re waiting on an update. He’ll have another run tomorrow and then he’ll be available for the game. Alfredo Morales is not available for the game. He’s still not fit to play.
“Every game gives you different challenges, and we’ll look at the likes of Thiago Andrade – I think it could be an important game for him.
“We expect Montréal to press us so having speed to attack the space [will be important]. Keaton Parks played really well in Atlanta, he’s trained well again and he’s pushing to get in the team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the game, he’s a big player for us but at the same time, Maxi Moralaez and Nico Acevedo have been great in there.
“We have to find a balance of the team that we feel is going to stay in form, because the Miami game was an incredible performance, whilst looking at Montreal.”
Cushing also reserved praise for the incredible City fans, who snapped up tickets to this trip to Canada at lightning speed, hailing the importance of their unwavering loyalty.
“It’s a a huge mark of the level of support that we have,” he praised. “It shows how amazing our fans are. Wherever we were, our fans have always supported us and whether there's 10 of them or there's 10,000 of them, or however many, we feel them.
“We love the fact that they follow us and it drives us on, especially when you're an away stadium and you come out for warm-ups or you come out for the start of the game and you see the fans in the stadium with the flags, and with the colors, and singing the songs…
“It just drives us on to really want to put performance in, and want to take the win home, and we felt that in the playoffs last year. We're feeling it now and we just want to make sure that we keep moving forwards together.”