It wasn’t that long ago that NYCFC had a depth problem – at least in the eyes of its head coach.
Roughly a month before the start of this season, Ronny Deila bemoaned the lack of quality in his squad, and sent a not-so-subtle hint to management to tap into the transfer market.
“We have a very young squad, the depth in this squad is not good enough to do something in MLS,” Deila told reporters. “We need more quality players.”
Deila wasn’t alone in his thinking. This column wrote at length about Jesus Medina’s huge importance to the squad within a somewhat depleted attacking unit. And while Medina has more than played his part with five goals already, Deila’s options look far healthier as the team approaches its first midweek test of the season.
Just 105 days after making his depth complaint, Deila beamed about his squad when asked on Tuesday.
“The depth is fantastic,” he said ahead of the team’s Wednesday date with Atlanta United.
What was once a bench that looked depleted by injury (Heber) and loan departure (Alexandru Mitrita) now looks well-stocked for the remainder of the season. A trio of young South Americans – Thiago Andrade, Talles Magno and Santiago Rodriguez – have arrived, and the attacking load on Medina and Taty Castellanos looks a bit less burdensome.
While the attacking trident have all made their NYCFC debuts (and Andrade scored his first goal last weekend), don’t expect Deila to completely prioritize rest and blooding new players for this midweek clash.
Amid some attractive soccer – and the league’s best xG difference per 90 – New York City has quietly failed to win four of five, slipping down to seventh in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we have a strong squad so it’s important to use the squad of course,” Deila said. “At the same time, it’s important that we use – we don’t rotate so much that we can’t be ourselves.”
With legitimate competition in midfield and at fullback, Deila will have to weigh his options for Wednesday with a Sunday match looming as well.
He’s not the only one.
The Red Bulls, fresh off an impressive 2-0 win over Nashville, will also break their first midweek sweat of the season in New England, with coach Gerhard Struber facing the tricky task of balancing the short-and-long-term.
Somewhat due to injuries and suspension, the Red Bulls have already handed starts to 17 different outfield players, including eight natural defenders (and a Florian Valot wingback experiment one game).
Curiously, one of the club’s more featured players is not part of that 17. English midfielder Dru Yearwood has appeared in six games (out of eight), but never from the start, and he’s even been asked to play for the club’s reserves at times this season.
He may finally get his first start this week.
“He’s more and more an option to be a starter,” Struber said on Monday. “Also on Wednesday, we will see how is my decision. Right now it’s very good to feel and see, he come closer and closer [to be] in the starting 11.”
Struber doesn’t quite have the attacking depth of Deila, and the 18-year-old legs of Caden Clark have already logged a lot of miles this season.
But as podcaster Mark Fishkin pointed out on Twitter, the team hasn’t had a three-game winning streak since 2018, with a chance to cement one Wednesday night.
Struber is dealing with a rash of injuries and will also have Sunday’s trip to Atlanta in mind.
Still, the team is rounding into form and has shot up to fifth in the East. He’d be wise to keep his foot (mostly) on the pedal.