Q&A | David Lee on 2023, Next Season & More

Dave Lee Lead

Following the conclusion of New York City Football Club's 2023 season, Sporting Director David Lee sat down to reflect on the year and discuss a number of issues related to the Club.

The 2023 campaign has come to a close and it's obviously been a disappointing season by NYCFC’s high standards. Can you give us your thoughts and assessment of the season?   

The overriding feelings are frustration and disappointment. We were expecting that 2023 would be a more challenging season given the number of key players that had departed, but we felt confident in being able to deliver much better results. To fall short of making the playoffs is incredibly disappointing for everyone connected to the Club and falls far below the standard we expect. In particular, the stretch of games across the summer months when we went 1-8-8 was an extremely difficult period. During that time our home form suffered, which has always been such a strong point for us in previous seasons, and this unfortunately was coupled with us dropping a number of points from winning positions on the road.

In 2021, a big part of the reason we won our first MLS Cup was that every department in the organization contributed and performed at the maximum level to help us achieve that unforgettable moment in Portland. Here at NYCFC we win and lose as a collective, and we have to admit that we haven’t done a good enough job as a collective this past season. Sometimes it's extremely fine margins, and it certainly hasn’t been any lack of effort, but as a group, Nick Cushing and I included, we haven’t been able to produce the results and performances we expect. We have a fantastic group of staff here, and as a Club, we are more determined and hungrier than ever to put that right next year.

Unfortunately, seasons like the one we just experienced are common for teams that have been successful in MLS. Every MLS Cup winning team in the last five years has missed the playoffs at least once in the following three seasons. The rules and structures across the League are driven by competitive balance and designed to try to make it difficult to be consistently successful as we have been. While I certainly don’t think this is inevitable, it’s important to try and counterbalance the challenges we face once we’ve had prolonged success. You need to be close to perfect and it's clear that as a group we fell short of that standard.

Despite these challenges, we were very close to qualifying for the playoffs. Our form and performances improved towards the end of the season, and we still had a chance heading into Decision Day. Falling only two points short of making the playoffs brings to mind certain moments throughout the season that we wish had gone differently. As painful as this has been, the key moving forward is to ensure we learn from this and get back to the levels we want to achieve and our fans expect in 2024.

What can the Club learn from a season like this? And what are the positives you can take away?   

I think it’s vital that we take this opportunity to reflect on the entire season and review how we have operated and the key factors that contributed to the disappointing results. We are going through a very honest, thorough review process where every detail will be carefully considered. We do this each season no matter how the season ends, and it’s an important part of learning from mistakes we may have made and moving forward as a team.

There is never just one area that needs to be addressed and we must look holistically at the entire squad, the way we prepared, the support provided to the players, decisions made throughout the season and the training program to ensure plans are in place to improve in 2024.

I remember saying after MLS Cup in 2021 that there had been good work happening behind the scenes at the Club for many years, but it’s only when you win that the support team and the players get the credit they may deserve. In the same way, even after a disappointing season like this, it is important we recognize the areas where we have good people and processes in place and add even more emphasis and support in those areas.

With the salary cap in MLS, it is vital to be consistent and build your roster in a structured way and consider the long-term impacts of any decisions. While there are still areas to improve, one key positive I do take away is that I feel between both transfer windows in 2023, we have not compromised future success and have provided ourselves with a great base of talent and depth that will allow us to be successful in seasons to come.

One other positive as we reflect on the season was that many young players had significant roles in the team, with 40% of our minutes being played by players under the age of 23 - the highest in MLS. Those players have gained invaluable experience and will be even better equipped for the challenges of an MLS season in 2024.

Young Guys

Nick Cushing will be entering his third season as Head Coach. How have you seen his development and how will the team continue to improve under him next season?  

It has been a challenging season for Nick, and he will have learned a lot from a season that dropped below our and his own high expectations. He cares deeply about this Club, and I see every day his commitment and desire to win. Nick is an extremely talented, young coach and he has proven that throughout his career by being part of numerous Championship winning teams. Nick has been with our organization for a long time, over 10 years, and was a vital part of us winning MLS Cup in 2021. We see his talent as a coach every day on the training pitch and by the players developing under Nick’s coaching, and the way he wants to play the game very much aligns with our coaching philosophy of playing attacking, exciting football.

While Nick would be the first to admit there are areas and moments in which he could have done better this season - as we all could have done - Nick is a proven winner and has won in all of his previous coaching positions, including as the Head Coach at NYCFC by winning the Campeones Cup in his first season and through two rounds of the playoffs until we were only minutes away from what would have been our second MLS Cup final in two years.

While it has undoubtedly been a difficult season for the Club, and there are many factors for that, I know Nick has learned a lot about this league, and that will be really important for him moving forward. As with any head coach or any professional, Nick is still developing. It's often the case you learn more in difficult moments, but throughout that process he has had a fantastic impact on this Club. His expertise, experience and leadership have been important for us at the training facility and on the sideline.

We’re very confident that results will be better next season, and with the addition of talent in key positions during the offseason, I believe Nick and his coaching staff will be able to take this team back to where we demand it to be. Nick and I will be working extremely closely together during the offseason to identify talent and ensure the team is significantly stronger next season.

The offseason allows you to make changes. What areas of the squad and Sporting department do you feel we need to strengthen?  

This is a really important period for us. Our aim in the offseason is to build a team capable of winning a Championship. There will be a lot of work with our coaches and scouts to make sure the team is in the best possible position when we return for pre-season in January. I expect there will be changes across the Club, and we have already begun identifying areas where we can add staff to improve the support we provide to the players. We intend to add to Nick‘s coaching staff during the offseason to bring further expertise and skillsets. It is important to find fresh voices and keep evolving the dynamic in a positive way. We’ve already begun to make changes and are confident we will see the benefits of this next season, and we're already looking forward to having those new influences.

From a roster standpoint, we intend to add players across all outfield positions – defense, midfield and forward. We know we did not score enough goals this season to be a top team in the Eastern Conference so there will be a particular focus on the attacking positions, but we also need additional depth and quality across the whole roster if we are to be as successful and competitive as we want to be in all competitions.

That said, there are two key attributes to a successful offseason. The first focuses on the players we can bring in to enhance the group, but it is equally important to focus on improving and developing the many extremely talented players we already have so they can be even more impactful for us in 2024.

This year, a number of our young talent from the Academy have had the opportunity to represent their country on the international stage. What are your thoughts on our up-and-coming talent here at NYCFC?  

We are incredibly excited about the potential and future of some of our young players. Over the past couple of years, we have focused on signing many talented players from our Academy to professional contracts and then working with them on their pathway so we can maximize their potential.

We have made a clear commitment at the NYCFC II level and with our First Team that once players are close to being ready, we will allow them to earn opportunities for playing time with our professional teams. Seeing the likes of Christian McFarlane, Maximo Carrizo, Jonathan Shore and Drew Baiera earn regular playing time in a professional competition at 15 and 16 years old is a huge accomplishment.

It is always fantastic recognition for the players and their families and also for us as a Club when we have National Teams from across the world calling up players from our development system to represent them at youth levels. Christian McFarlane has become a regular in the England U17 set-up alongside players from some of the biggest clubs in the world. Now his focus will be on continuing his development so he can retain his place in that set-up while we work with him on the next steps of his pathway here at NYCFC.


This year, Taty Castellanos and Gabriel Pereira were sold for Club record fees – this shows the Club continues to identify and develop young talent able to play at the highest level. How do we plan to reinvest that in the squad and what does this say about us as a Club as we continue to attract emerging talent?  

We are incredibly proud of the role we have played in the careers of players who have been part of NYCFC and then have moved to play at clubs around the world, including many who regularly compete in the UEFA Champions League and other major leagues. It is something we have done consistently since we began in 2015 with the likes of Jack Harrison, Yangel Herrera, Joe Scally, James Sands and Gio Reyna, with Taty and Gabriel the latest two examples. It shouldn’t be underestimated the amount of time and work our entire staff put in to help develop these talented players.

As the summer market arrived, it became clear that keeping both players would be challenging, albeit for different reasons. Given Taty’s success in MLS and La Liga, we realized that this summer was likely to be the best opportunity for him to continue his career outside of City Football Group, and we had multiple Champions League-level teams interested in acquiring him. Being able to secure a Club-record fee, and one of the highest fees in MLS history, was a proud accomplishment and we will continue to follow Taty’s career with great pride.

Gabriel had a fantastic start to the 2023 season, and we had planned for him to remain with the Club. However, once Al-Rayyan made their interest known and followed up with increasing bids, Gabriel had made clear his desire to take the opportunity both for himself and his family. We felt it was the right decision to accept the offer once it met our valuation. I was really pleased that despite the unplanned departure, we acquired another U22 player in Julián Fernández before the summer window closed, and we are excited to continue his development with the Club.

To sell two players for in excess of $10m in one transfer window isn’t common for many teams anywhere in the world, but it is a sign of the quality of players we have and how teams around the world look at the talent we are developing.

The Club’s stadium project has entered the City’s ULURP process, taking an important step. From your perspective, what does this stadium project mean for you and the team? 

It is so exciting to see the progress on the stadium project and the important step of entering ULURP. We know there are important moments ahead in the coming months, but everyone on the Sporting side is extremely excited about the prospect of playing our first game in 2027 and having a stadium in New York City to call our own for our incredible fans. While there is still some time to wait before we can start getting really excited, it will be a game-changer for us as a Club and help ensure we remain as one of the top clubs in MLS.

NYCFC II just missed the playoffs but had an MVP finalist and Golden Boot winner in MD Myers. What are your thoughts on their season and how will the First Team continue to use MLSNP for development?   

From a results perspective, it was similar to last year as we entered the last game of the season with a chance of qualifying for the playoffs but ultimately just missed out.

Results aren’t the first way we assess the performance of NYCFC II, however. MLS NEXT Pro is primarily a development platform for us, and so the measures we’re particularly focused on are how well our players have progressed individually and how much closer they are to the First Team. Of course, developing a competitive mindset is integral to the future success of young players so we are pleased with how competitive the group was. Matt Pilkington and the staff have created a fantastic culture and environment that combines development alongside competitiveness.

The addition of NYCFC II has been incredibly positive for us, and we continue to see the development of this team as a vehicle to provide professional playing minutes to players who we believe can impact our First Team in the future. There will be a focus on allowing the most talented players in our region the opportunity to earn playing minutes at a young age to accelerate their development.

*  What are the goals and expectations for the 2024 season?  *

First and foremost, our minimum expectations are that we return to the playoffs in 2024. Our goal as we enter every season is to compete for trophies in every competition we enter and that will be no different next season. We know that the best chance of competing for another MLS Cup is to have as many playoff games at home in front of our incredible fans as possible, and so we must aim to finish as high in the table as we can, as having home advantage always makes a huge difference for us.

We want to see the development of our exciting young talents, both from the Academy and those we have brought in internationally. We want to continue to produce local, young talent that our fans can be proud of. We also expect to see continued evolution in our style of play as we seek to play an exciting, attacking game that our fans enjoy. Not only do we want to win more, but we want to win by playing with an identity that is recognizable as NYCFC.

As always, the fans supported the team  home and away. What would your message to the fans be?   

The consistent support of the fans has been a major positive for everyone at the Club. The players, coaches and I are so thankful for their passion and the atmosphere they create for us even during difficult moments. Their unwavering commitment to the team is incredible. The fan base has always been, and always will be, the backbone to our Club, and they truly delivered in every game this season. I’d like to specifically thank the Third Rail and Los Templados, our Official NYCFC Supporters Clubs. Their passion is always felt, and the drums are so often heard at our games and events, and even sometimes here at CFA as we prepare for our most important games!

So the overall message would be “thank you’, but equally I want to be clear and reassure the fans that everyone at NYCFC is deeply committed to doing everything we can to give you the success you deserve in 2024 and beyond. We will leave no stone unturned to find ways to improve. While we know there’s a lot of hard work ahead of us before then, we’re already extremely excited and looking forward to the opening game of the 2024 season!


New York City Football Club take on Inter Miami CF this Friday in commemoration of Lionel Messi’s historic eighth Ballon d’Or award.

The match is live on MLS Season Pass from 8:00PM ET.