Nick Cushing says he has been hugely impressed with the way his New York City players have conducted themselves in preseason – both on and off the pitch.
Gearing up for the new 2023 MLS campaign, the Boys in Blue have spent the past few weeks training in Orlando, Santa Barbara and now LA, stretching the legs with three friendly matches against Minnesota United, San Jose Earthquakes and LAFC.
Preparations continue this weekend with Saturday’s warm-up clash against LA Galaxy, and Cushing spoke of his pride for the way his squad – a mix of First Team, NYCFC II, and Academy players – have gelled.
“It’s a really exciting group for us as a Football Club,” he declared. “We have First Team players, some of our MLS II team, and also Academy players – players we really feel have real potential moving into the future of NYCFC.
“It’s been brilliant to get those group of players together. The senior leaders – Maxime Chanot, Alfredo Morales, Thiago Martins – have really led this group, helping the younger players, working off the pitch to make sure this group continues to move forwards, and continues to become a team that is progressing whilst we are recruiting, adding people like Mitja [Ilenic] into the group.
“Players like Talles Magno are hugely motivated this year. I’m really excited to continue to push him. Thiago Andrade wants to play more minutes so he’s using this preseason to show his ability to become a player who is on the teamsheet every week.
“In preseason, we have to make sure we consistently giving people opportunity but continue to put the demand and expectation on them. That’s the only way we are going to progress and improve our team.”
Reflecting on the opening weeks of training, and the three warm-up fixtures, Cushing added he is pleased with his side’s progress.
Whilst preseason offers the chance for the squad to develop chemistry off the pitch, it also affords the opportunity to test out various tactical plans – and the Head Coach highlighted his desire to encourage more flexibility, as a useful tool in the Club’s chase for silverware.
“Tactical flexibility is really important for winning teams,” he continues. “You can’t do the same things all the time and expect to win. Preseason is a good time to work on that.
“There are some really good teams in this league, good coaches who will look at you and work out how to play against you. We’ve seen that with some really difficult games against Minnesota, San Jose, and LA – three different teams.
“For us, the simple way our preseason is structured is: we start off at a slower pace in the sense of developing the team, the demand and expectation we put on the players, the minutes that they play in games, the expectation I put on results and on performance.
“As we move closer – we've gone through Minnesota into San Jose – players play more minutes, we started to look at our team and try and build real relationships. The players want to play more minutes, so we go into the LAFC game and we do that, and it was a real competitive game.
“I was really pleased with the standard of the LAFC game: for our performance but also from an opposition and an intensity of game, and it will be the same moving into the LA Galaxy game – we won't rotate so much, we'll start to use those players and start to focus on those players that we would really feel will be within our squad moving into the season.
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“We’ll take some rest, go to Coachella and then it's all about making sure that we're preparing for Nashville. So that will be about putting a team on the pitch that can be physically pushed, that tactically will be pushed against two really good teams.
“We put demand on players to make sure that not only do we put in performances but we work really hard and have a real focus on making sure that we gain results.
“I want this team to have tactical flexibility. The way we played against Minnesota was different to the way we played against San Jose, then we adapted a little bit tactically against LA.
“The concepts and the principles of how we play, and the methods and the methodology our organization has, is the same – but you have to have that flexibility, and the ability to adapt, and we've used preseason for that.
“I have my ideas. I want the team to have a defined playing style and we’re working on that. We have to improve the physical ability of the team. We want to play high intensity football so there’s a huge focus on that – trying to build this team into a cohesive team, who are together.
“You won’t achieve that in the first two weeks of preseason – it’s an ongoing process – but I’m really happy with the staff here. We talk regularly across departments and the off-field staff to make sure the environment, the culture we’re creating is continuing to push this team in all of the areas we feel we have to, to become a team that can continue to be successful for New York.
“Ultimately, we know our squad will evolve over preseason. Mitja is a good example – he didn’t join us in Florida but now he’s here in LA. Negotiations and recruitment are an ongoing process. We know the squad we started with won’t be the squad we finish with.
“I think it's really clear to people to see which players we don't have here, players that have moved on – and we’ll consistently (myself, David [Lee], Brad [Sims] and all the coaches) are in communication regularly, whether it be here in the hotel, whether it be after training, and we’ll consistently communicate and continue to work really hard to make sure we have a competitive team.”
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).