New York City Football Club picked up our first point of the 2023 MLS season with a 1-1 draw at Chicago Fire.
Gabriel Pereira was on the scoresheet at Soldier Field, breaking the deadlock before Fabian Herbers leveled with 15 minutes remaining.
Here are Five Points from Saturday's encounter...
Shoots Of Progress
Following the opening day defeat to Nashville SC, Nick Cushing had called for improvement with his side having struggled to control the game in Tennessee.
With a week on the training pitch to have ironed things out, the difference was immediately noticeable with a much-improved first half display in Illinois.
City looked much more threatening in the final third - more direct and playing at a quicker tempo - and were unlucky not to have gone ahead through Andres Jasson who struck the woodwork, before Pereira broke the deadlock, finishing off a nicely-worked team move.
Chasing a route back into the game, Chicago were fired up in the second half and clawed themselves level when Herbers smashed in a deflated effort after a free-kick had only been half-cleared.
Though the Boys in Blue will have been disappointed not to have maintained the lead to hold out for the win, and will be frustrated to have conceded from another set piece, there were most definitely encouraging signs of better things to come.
Precision From Pereira
Another Gabby golazo!
The Brazilian loves trip to Chicago... and just like he did in 2022, he bagged a glorious effort in Illinois. While last season's strike had been an outrageous long-range rocket, this one was a beautifully-crafted curling effort that caressed the post on its way in.
Pereira had already looked lively, dancing down the right flank, before the opener, and produced a moment of magic to bag the Club's first goal of the new campaign.
Employing the high press, Cushing's side twice won the ball back in the Chicago half through Keaton Parks and Braian Cufré, and the ball was helped on to Pereira just inside the area. Showing excellent composure, 21-year-old opened his body up and angled the perfect finish into the far corner - a finish that is quickly becoming his trademark, and set the City Boys and running for the new campaign.
Head Coach Cushing highlighted Pereira as a key cog in NYCFC's attacking machine, and after tallying nine goals and four assists in his debut campaign, the Brazilian will look to emulate his 2022 return this term. Watch this space.
Back In Blue
The clash heralded welcome returns for City stars James Sands and Santiago Rodríguez.
The pair donned Bronx Blue for the first time since putting pen to paper on new contracts with the Club with Sands starting the game, and Rodríguez introduced from the bench.
Although the Uruguayan did not have much time to impact the contest, Sands impressed from the off, pulling the strings at the heart of midfield as though he had never left.
An unfortunate cramp meant his night was cut short, but Cushing confirmed it was not a serious injury, and was full of praise for the 22-year-old, hailing his technical ability, ball retention, and notable maturity.
The Head Coach admitted the Boys in Blue were affected by Sands' absence following the substitution, but delighted with his contribution and hopes the midfielder will push on to play a key role. An exciting prospect.
There was further cause for celebration, as teenager Mtija Ilenič earned his first start, while NYCFC II graduate Stephen Turnbull was brought on for his first senior appearance late on.
Ilenič produced an impressive and accomplished display beyond his years, showcasing his physical strength and defensive solidity against highly experienced opponents, and also posed a dangerous offensive threat.
The youngster had spoken on Thursday of his dream of earning his full debut and stepping into the fray at just 18 years old, he did not look out of place, earning the respect of his peers, as Thiago Martins stated.
"I think Mitja played very well," the Brazilian said. "We know at 18 years old that he will have a long career, but he played very well. We have a good communication on the pitch. I try to help him every time, and cover him when he needs it, but I think he played very well."
Fellow attacking full-back Turnbull, who signed for the senior side on a Short-Term Contract having impressed in preseason, featured for the final minutes - a valuable experience on his pathway, and another success story for NYCFC II.
Ahead To The Home Opener
The Boys in Blue are coming home!
With two tough road trips to kick-off the 2023 campaign, City are counting down the minutes to next weekend's home opener.
While the City Boys will have enjoyed being back in action after a long off-season, there is nothing like playing on home soil, in front of your own fans, especially for the first time in a new season.
Cushing's side have had to contest with two vocal and boisterous opposition crowds as both Nashville and Chicago celebrated their season openers, and will be excited to step out on New York turf, backed by another electric atmosphere - this one provided by the City faithful with the backdrop of a sea of blue and white.
Fittingly, our most recent visitors Inter Miami CF are our first visitors of 2023, with the two sides having met in Round One of last season's playoffs. The atmosphere that night was something special, spurring the team onto a 3-0 triumph, and with a point on the board, City will look to build on the positive result, celebrating our return with a first win of the year.
NYCFC are back on home soil, welcoming Inter Miami CF to Yankee Stadium in our 2023 home opener on Saturday, March 11th (7:30pm ET). Tickets for the game are available now!
Join us at our pre-match Home Opener Celebration between 5-7pm at Billy's Sports Bar in the Bronx, and get in the mood for our first home game of 2023 with a DJ, food and drinks, games and raffle prizes! Register here.
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