Nick Cushing says he has no doubts his New York City side have the quality and mental toughness to triumph on the road.
The Boys in Blue visit FC Cincinnati on Wednesday in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 32 in the third game of a five-match road stretch, having struggled away from home so far this season.
Though the City Boys are yet to register a win on their travels, falling to a 3-2 defeat last time out at Charlotte FC, the Head Coach insists his side have what it takes to turn their away form around, and kickstart their push for silverware.
“The toughness, or the mentality that you require to win a game on the road, we 100% have,” he said. “I’d be worried if I didn’t think we had the fight, togetherness or desire.
“I came into the [training] facility this morning and the mood is really good. There’s an air of frustration and disappointment, because they see that we gave a game away [against Charlotte].
“It’s not a positive but there is a small positive in being able to shine a light on exactly where we need to improve: we’ve conceded 14 goals this year; 50% from set-plays.
“The mentality of the group is confident – you can see that in the way we play. We know there’s going to be ups and downs, and inconsistencies because of the age profile of the group, and the nature of the newness of the group.
“In the last years, we’ve been a strong team in set-play, but if you look at the roles and responsibilities of why we were strong, those guys aren’t in this team anymore – Alex Callens, Anton Tinnerholm, Taty Castellanos, Maxi Moralez…
“Those guys worked at set-plays for four, five seasons; this group has worked at it since preseason. We need to improve, and the guys know this. If we score two goals on the road, we expect to get something out of the game, if not win.
“If we perform like we did against Charlotte every week, we’ll win more games than we lose on the road, because the mentality was good, the technique was good, and tactically, we understood what Charlotte were going to do, and solved that problem.
“We had a game where we carried the game - we dictated from start to end with a team that’s really trying to push, with a team that really showed our identity.
“We have to sustain that performance. If we don’t play that well against Cincinnati, we won’t win the football game. In those areas, we have to tighten up quickly.
“But the togetherness, the hunger, the desire… I see that in the guys’ eyes when we’re in the meeting room, when we’re on the training pitch with the guys that trained.
“The intensity and the competitive nature of the group is there, so I really don’t worry about that.
“I’m frustrated, but I know we have to continue to push and improve in those areas where we need to be better.”
Cushing also shared a positive update on the health of the squad, with Tayvon Gray forced off on Saturday against Charlotte FC, and Matías Pellegrini having missed out through injury.
James Sands also suffered a head injury in North Carolina, but the Head Coach confirmed the trio are doing well.
"Tayvon actually has trained,” he added. “He did an individual session with the physios and they're really pleased with him, so he will go back with the team tomorrow (Tuesday).
"If he can get through the team session, because it's just pain tolerance, he'll be up for selection.
"Matías Pellegrini, who missed out with a slight hamstring, was also in individual training – hopefully the same situation, although a different injury. If he can get through the team training tomorrow, he'll be available.
"James Sands took a ball to the face, but he's fine. He's a little bruised across the the nose, but there's no problem.
"It's an opportunity to rotate and get some guys some minutes, and really get focused on competing – the likes of Tony Alfaro, Justin Haak, Andres Jasson, those guys – but at the same time, I've come into the facility, and there's a group of guys that are really hungry to get a win on the road.
"They don't care what competition is is – they just want to make sure they get paid back for all the hard work and commitment they're showing. The guys in there are so hungry to continue. It's 50-50 [on rotation]."
In Cincinnati, NYCFC lock horns with second place in the Eastern Conference, with The Orange and Blue having earned a 100% record at home so far in 2023.
With the home side having tallied six MLS wins in Ohio, as well as a victory in the last round of the US Open Cup, Cushing admits his side will need to be at their best to progress at TQL Stadium.
“They’re a really dangerous team,” he continued. “We saw that last year. Home and away, we had two difficult games.
"They've made huge progress. When I first came in here in 2020, 2021, the team was struggling – it didn't make playoffs, it couldn't get consistent – and then the new coach [Pat Noonan] comes in...
"He did an incredible job last year – not only getting the team into playoffs, but getting the team organization and being a threat as a team.
"They've continued that this year. I was certain they would anyway because the second year always gives you opportunity – the first year is a building year, the second year is an opportunity to build on that.
"They've always been dangerous. They've had the likes of Brandon Vazquez, Brenner, Sergio Santos upfront as nines, so they're going to cause problems, and they have [Luciano] Acosta underneath, who is a really good number 10.
“Scoring goals is never going to be a problem for them. They have probably tightened up and not conceded as many goals in these early stages as they did last year, and that turns into wins.
“We know we’re going to have to perform to get a result.”