Nick Cushing says he is full of pride for the way the New York City players and fans pulled together to secure a vital win in the Club’s 2023 Home Opener.
The Boys in Blue clinched a first three points of the new season in the opening game at Yankee Stadium, edging past Inter Miami CF in a tightly-fought contest, courtesy of Christopher McVey’s first-half own-goal.
With City off and running in the new campaign, Cushing was delighted to have celebrated his side’s first victory with the home faithful, who he says played a huge part in helping the team to see out a hard-earned triumph.
“It’s incredible,” he hailed. “When I look over at the crowd singing, and I see the passion of the fans at the end when they celebrate with our team, it makes me really proud.
“The significance of this game was: it was our Home Opener in front of our fans. Whoever we would have played, I would have had a huge desire, and a hunger to win because I want to win for our fans.
“We love playing in front of our fans, and we’ve had some great nights here, and at Citi Field. I said to the team beforehand: ‘We know the fans feed off our energy, our intensity, and then we get it back 10x.
“We were under pressure in the last ten minutes, and the fans gave us that lift, that energy. When we do play our football, and get the ball down, and we start to play attacking football with a high intensity, we can inspire our fans, and then we rely on our fans to support us over the line in those difficult moments.
“Our league is improving all the time – teams who finished out of the playoffs last year have a huge desire to finish in the playoffs. Everybody's improving, so we're going to have some real difficult moments here, and in those difficult moments, we need our fans to pull us over the line.
“We have a huge desire, and I said this to the team at the start of the game: ‘We create exactly what we want our home fortress to be like.’ We do that with our style, and our fans will feed off that.”
Reflecting on the game itself – a hard-fought encounter with chances for both sides – Cushing was pleased to see his squad grind out the victory with a battling display against a team who had won both of their opening fixtures, and a manager for whom he holds the utmost respect.
The City Head Coach was full of praise for his side’s effort, but admitted the Boys in Blue must be more ruthless in front of goal going forward.
“I knew it was going to be a really difficult game,” he said. “Phil [Neville] is a top coach, a really good manager. When he took this team, I knew exactly the direction the team would go in, and I knew the team he inherited wouldn’t be the team he would end up creating because his mindset is incredible.
“His team will have an incredible work rate and togetherness, but they have added real quality. Every year we play Miami, we were going to play a better team. They will be a really dangerous team this season.
“We wanted to start with energy, and start aggressive, and I thought we did that – probably more so in the second half than in the first, but in the first half, we did that… We scored the offside goal and started to get into good moments. We were pushing in that moment. The game was swinging but the goal gives us a foothold in the game, a platform to push on.
“We defended the game incredibly well, but the second goal completely kills the game. You've seen those games here in Yankee Stadium where we get the second goal, and then we end up getting the third, and the fourth, and it's one of those real enjoyable games for the crowd.
“There are small tactical things we can improve on, which will give us more control in the game for longer moments, but I’m most pleased with how aggressive we were in the second half. That’s how we want to start games, especially here in front of our own fans.
“If we're going to be a top team, we have to score the goals. We have to kill the games. We had a preseason game in Portland [Timbers] in California where we carry 75% of the ball, and we lose the game 1-0 on a set-play, because we don’t score the goal. In Nashville, they were 1-0, we should go 1-1 and then they go 2-0…
“We’re 1-0 at Chicago, we should go and get the second goal and win the game. It could have been the same today. It's early in the season, so maybe we're not in our rhythm, but if we're going to be a top team, we have to go and kill teams off.
“I thought the huge positive for us as a Football Club was that our substitutes made us better, and that's where we have to be as a team – we have to be tuned in as a bench, we have to be ready to go and make us better, whether it's chasing the game, whether it's holding the game, whether it's more running, whether it's quality, whatever it is.
“We have a good squad, and we're only going to to make our squad better. If we're going to win football games consistently, our bench has to be ready to make us better, and I think everyone that came on, and the way that we shifted it made us better.”
Cushing also reserved praise for birthday boy Matías Pellegrini, who produced an impressive performance against his former Club, and was unfortunate not to have opened the scoring, having strayed just offside before smashing home on the volley.
“I knew with Matías that he was going to have that real desire to put a performance in,” the Head Coach added. “He’s not started many games here at Yankee Stadium, if any, but it’s his birthday, it’s against his old team….
“I thought he had an excellent game. His workrate is incredible, and we’ve been known for being a team of industry, and the fans feed off that intensity. I thought he was one of our best players.”
With City back on home soil next weekend, welcoming D.C. United to Yankee Stadium, Cushing hopes to see another improved performance, as the Boys in Blue look to push on from the first win, and build a strong run of momentum.
“If you look at last year, we didn't start the season so well on the road,” he recalled. “It’s pretty similar to this year, and then we go and win the Home Opener. It just gives you that lift, and that impetus to go on.
“We’ve got another home game next week. We'll go into this training week with a mindset of wanting to improve, having a mindset of: ‘We need to fix those small details to make us a better team,’ but with confidence and knowing that we've put three points on the board.
“We need to be patient with trying to get our rhythm, and our real level. That's why I'd say there's some small things that we need to improve on, but our desire, our hunger and our passion is exactly the same.
“We’re only going to get better as a team. I’m certain of that, and we're only going to get stronger as a squad as we add more.
“We've put our first foot forward. It’s going to be a difficult game against D.C. but if we work hard this week, we can put another performance in.”
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