Nick Cushing says he has been hugely impressed with the ‘attitude, application and hunger’ of his New York City squad this week.
The Boys in Blue are back on the road this weekend, traveling to Houston Dynamo in search of a third straight win.
Speaking ahead of the game, the Head Coach confirmed that – aside from Maxime Chanot and Mitja Ilenič, who have been called-up for international duty – he has a full roster to choose from, and has been thrilled with his players’ efforts in pushing for places.
“The squad is healthy,” he said. “We don’t have Maxime, we don’t have Mitja Ilenič but everyone else is fit.
“We’ve got a full roster apart from those two guys to select from. When we build rosters, we have to build them for dips in form, we have to build them for potential injuries, and in our league, we have to build them to compensate for international breaks because we play through.
“We feel we’ve done that, we feel we have the ability to change the team at any moment, whether it’s for one of those reasons. This week, it’s forced upon us – we have to make at least one change because Maxime Chanot is there.
“I put Tayvon [Gray] in last week [against D.C. United], knowing Mitja was going to be away, so the positive is that Tayvon’s had a game, going into a game where he’s probably going to play because that gives us the opportunity.
“We also played three at the back last year so we can do that. We can change the system and play Andres Jasson as a wing-back, Kevin O’Toole as a wing-back, we can change the shape. The flexibility in the roster gives us the opportunity to do that.
“We’re trying to really improve the principles of how we want to play, and we consistently train that way. We work at trying to be the best team we can be.
“Of course, we look at the opposition, and we see their strengths, we see their weaknesses, and we see how we can exploit those – but the majority of our work, and our focus is on ourselves: on how we can be better with the ball, and how we can be harder to play against when we don’t have the ball.
“The guys’ attitude and application, and the hunger and desire in training, I’ve been really impressed with. The intensity of our work this week has been excellent.”
Looking to build on our previous two wins on home soil, Cushing and co. have their sights set on a first road victory of 2023.
With only five previous meetings with Houston – and the most recent encounter back in 2019 – the Dynamo are unfamiliar opponents for the City Boys.
New York will also have to adapt to warmer weather conditions, but the Head Coach insists his side will be prepared, and ready for a possession battle.
“Both teams want the ball,” he said. “Houston have the highest average possession of any team in MLS this season, so we know they’re going to want the ball.
“We know their game model, and their methodology now under their new manager is to have the ball, and have possession. [Inter] Miami were no different.
“If we allow them to play through their midfield players, and [Héctor] Herrera is allowed to have time and space, and is allowed to face the game, and dictate the game, they’re going to be a very dangerous team.
“We have to restrict space, we have to make sure we don’t let their players [play] – and he’s not alone, he has quality around him. We need to make sure we play the game we’ve played over the last two, three weeks: restrict the opposition space, be together, always be aggressive with the ball, be aggressive when we don’t have the ball, and make sure we don’t allow them to dictate the game, and create lots of chances.
“I’ve been really pleased with the amount of chances we’ve conceded in open play, because it’s been a really low number for us – because of how aggressive we’ve been up the field, and how together we’ve been when we’re low in the field.
“If we can fix the amount of times we give set-plays away, and the chances we concede on set-play, I think defensively we’ll have had a really good start to the season.
“We had a plan to prepare [for the weather] today, but it was raining! So, it wasn’t the greatest preparation today!
“We were pretty lucky in that we’re playing this game this early in the season. We went to Dallas last year, and it was crazy weather! The head was on the high end of what it can be.
“This one will be warm but not crazy weather. It was nice here – there’s no way we can replicate Texas here – but for us, it’s about playing the way we want to play, our identity.
“Obviously, when we play in different climates, we have to play the way the game demands. We are prepared to go and play our style, and we will do that. A lot of our guys have played in Texas previously, so they know what to expect. For us, it’s about concentrating on performance.
“We have to have performances where we can manage games, we can dominate games, we can see games out, because on the road, the nature of our league is that it’s so difficult – but the message to the team is clear: ‘If we want to be a top team in the top positions, you have to get points on the road.’”
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