Ronny Deila had been teasing the idea of handing Santiago Rodríguez a start for several weeks and on Saturday he finally unleashed the midfielder onto the starting XI.
The Uruguayan didn’t take long to show what he could do on his first MLS start – netting a goal in the 12th minute – and helping NYCFC slice through Toronto in the first half. His willingness to roam across the forward line; coming deep to collect the ball as well as running beyond Taty Castellanos, made him difficult for TFC to track.
Overall, the 21-year-old produced a strong showing that offered NYCFC something slightly different in the number 10 position. His link-up play with Castellanos was particularly impressive, and bodes well for their future together.
Taty Turns Provider
While we often talk about forwards in goal-scoring terms it’s worth evaluating their play in totality.
Castellanos has rediscovered his goal-scoring touch of late, but on Saturday it was all about his creative efforts. The Argentinian produced two assists in the game, making him the first player to do so for NYCFC in 2021.
In the first instance it was all about instinctual play from Castellanos that saw him play Rodríguez in behind. For his second, the 22-year-old showed composure and intelligence to make the right choice and slow the play down before sliding Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in to score.
That takes Castellanos to 12 goal involvements in 17 games this season, under-pinning his importance to the team this season, and while most forwards in the world would prefer to score more goals than they create, we shouldn’t underestimate Castellanos’ selflessness.
The meeting with TFC was definitely a game of two halves that conjured up a cascade of differing emotions as the full-time whistle sounded.
The first half was an example in scintillating soccer, and arguably some of the best interplay NYCFC have produced this season.
At the same time, the second half was a frustrating affair in which the home side rallied and fought their way back into the game. NYCFC did recover somewhat and restore a greater balance to proceedings, but only after TFC’s brace to restore parity.
Taking a point on the road can’t be seen as a bad thing, even if more felt available, with the team continuing their unbeaten run to five games.
It’s felt like a long time since James Sands wore the Bronx Blue of NYCFC, but he was back in the line-up on Saturday, and showed just why he’s so highly rated by his teammates.
A calming presence that moved the ball quickly and efficiently, he also showed his range of passing by playing a delightful round the corner ball to Santiago Rodríguez.
The 21-year-old has understandably been a busy man this past month, winning a Gold Cup and earning an All-Star callup, and as such he wasn’t quite able to play a full 90 minutes.
That said, it was great to welcome Sands back to the team and his influence in midfield and defence will no doubt be felt during the rest of August and beyond.
We Go Again
While there may have been a sense of frustration attached to Saturday’s result the Boys in Blue have a great chance to shake that off quickly.
Wednesday night will see the team take on Liga MX outfit Pumas UNAM in the League’s Cup. Much has been made about how exciting it is to play at Yankee Stadium, and Sean Johnson summed it up perfectly.
“Finally being able to be back out there with the guys in front of them [the fans] it’s going to be an unbelievable feeling to have a packed house. We haven’t been able to have full capacity, but we’ve been looking forward to the day when we can open the stadium back up safely for all of our fans because they mean everything to us.”