Nick Cushing says he has been highly impressed with his team’s positive mindset ahead of the new season.
In preparation for the new MLS campaign, the Boys in Blue have enjoyed a series of warm-weather training camps, and have contested five preseason fixtures so far, with one more to come on Saturday against 2021 MLS Cup Final opponents Portland Timbers.
Taking charge of his first preseason, the Head Coach says he has been very encouraged by the strong and supportive mentality of his players, both in matches and in training – a trait he believes marks a hugely positive sign for the year ahead.
“I’ve seen the mentality of this group, and the personality of this group, grow across the preseason,” he stated.
“I was really impressed with the group’s mentality in the LA Galaxy game. Even when I put our MLS II and Academy guys on, the leadership and the support our guys gave those boys, to go on and win the game was a really encouraging sign for me.
“Then, going into the [St. Louis City SC] game, of course we were disappointed to go two down, but – the same as the San Jose [Earthquakes] game – the mindset, the mentality, the togetherness in the group... to make sure that we not only put a performance in to get the physical out of the game, but also the tactical out of the game; to get the result, to make sure we don’t lose the game for me is a really good sign.
“One thing I think this preseason has shown me, especially going into that Nashville game is that we have some really exciting football players, and I really rely on the leadership of our senior leaders: Thiago Martins, Alfredo Morales and Maxime Chanot.”
This week also saw the welcome return of Gabriel Pereira, who joined up with the squad in training before marking his first start of 2023 with a goal against St. Louis.
Cushing declared he was pleased to have the Brazilian back in contention, adding he sees the forward playing a key role in the new campaign.
“It’s great to have Gabby back,” he continued. “We were really excited when we heard he was on his way here.
“As soon as he arrived, he was really motivated, really hungry and it was good to get him on the training pitch. I had a huge desire to get him in the game, even for 10-15 minutes – just to get him on the pitch.
“He had a huge desire himself to get back playing with the guys, so I’m really pleased, and it doesn’t surprise me that he scored in the game. He actually had another chance so he nearly scored two.
“He’s going to be a really important player for us this year, and somebody we really value.”
With just nine days to go until the MLS season opener against Nashville SC, Cushing admitted his preparations are now stepping up with the Tennessee trip in mind, with the squad eager to start the season brightly.
“Of course, we have one eye on Nashville,” he continued. “We have another preseason game where we play Portland on Saturday, so we’re still in that phase of finishing off where we see our preseason, and the aims and the plans we have across the preseason.
“It was a six-game preseason with many training sessions, with the aim of us really imprinting our style and the type of team we want to be. Obviously, the players who started the Minnesota [United] game were playing a reduced amount of minutes, and that has grown across the preseason.
“We had a plan, and we've phased in tactical periodization in that time. Ultimately, we have one game left for us really to review, and conclude, and summarize where we feel we're at.
“I have incredible staff here, the performance analysts are already going through where we feel Nashville will be dangerous – they’re a really difficult team, it’s a home opener for them, so we know it’s going to be a difficult game.
“My message to the fans is: ‘We want your support, we want to be a team that excites the fans this year, we want to play football.’
“We understand the difficult nature of MLS – and also the incredibly difficult nature of away games in MLS – but we’ve seen some incredible progress, really positive signs in the team.
“It’s a huge opportunity for younger players, and players that haven’t played too many MLS games, to really accelerate their progress, to be ready to play their role in the team – but it’s also an ever-evolving team... You’ve seen the likes of Mitja [Ilenic] and Matt Freese, Braian Cufre, as we continue to strengthen this team.
“The message is: ‘We want to be competitive from the first game,’ and if you look at all of our preseason friendlies, we’ve been competitive, and dominated games in long periods.”
NYCFC will kick off the 2023 MLS season on Feb. 25 when we visit Nashville SC at GEODIS Park (4:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).