How NYCFC can adjust without Valentin Castellanos for the MLS Eastern Conference Finals

As was the case for most of the 2021 season, New York City FC found itself in a talented but at times temperamental striker. Valentin Castellanos during Tuesday’s MLS Eastern Conference semifinal victory over the New England Revolution.

Well, Taty gave, and now Taty has been taken away.

NYCFC does not reach the club’s first conference final without Castellanos’ scoring, including a green goal in extra time on Tuesday. But City are also without their MVP finalist, entering the most important match in the team’s history. The 23-year-old received his second yellow card in the match a few minutes after his goal, and thus received an expulsion and automatic quarantine for the club’s visit to the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

The absence of Castellanos, who won the MLS Golden Boot by 19 goals in the regular season, will undoubtedly count over NYCFC’s preparation for Philadelphia. But in the wake of Tuesday’s victory, his teammates predictably expressed faith in the club’s other options.

“We are a team,” said defender Tayvon Gray, who started for the second playoff game in a row after limited time this season. “Taty will not be there, but we have other players who can do the job, so that’s fine.”

Santiago Rodriguez, who scored the opening goal in Tuesday’s victory, was not ambiguous when asked to play without Castellanos, but also expressed faith in a replacement who has not yet been named.

“It’s definitely a big loss,” Rodriguez said through a translator. “He’s our leader and our goal scorer and the guy who leads the attack. We have full confidence in the player who is going to take his place. We have a lot of confidence in him, we have a lot of harmony and camaraderie within the group. There is a lot of unity and we know we are messing with the next one who fills his place. “

Confidence is great, but experience would help. The Castellanos started 32 of 34 league games this season, plus both NYCFC’s wins after the season as well as its League Cup appearance in August. Before being sent off on Tuesday, he had played 292 minutes in a row since the kickoff on Decision Day and scored at least 90 minutes in seven of the previous nine games.

Castellanos’ first missed game was due to yellow cards, forcing him out of a 3-3 draw against FC Dallas at Red Bull Arena on 14 September. NYCFC was able to score that day against a Dallas defense that allowed third-most goals. in MLS this season (56), and gets contributions from Maxi Moralez, Jesús Medina and Talles Magno. The young Brazilian Magno was handed the start ahead with Castellano’s absent, putting 3 out of 5 shots on goal for 1.2 expected goals over 80 minutes.

Tati’s second absence was due to a major challenge against the Red Bulls, who remained unpunished on the field, keeping him from a 2-0 defeat to the humble Chicago Fire on September 29th. Magno at the top didn’t work quite as well that day, and the NYCFC put just two shots on goal in a sleepy loss in the middle of the season’s toughest stretch.

There could be an important difference for the NYCFC, which enters Castellanos’ third suspension in 2021 – a Héber in full force. The club’s leading goal scorer in 2019 missed a full year of action after a torn ACL to return for a 10-minute comeback in a draw with Dallas and played six more appearances as the season ended. His impact was minimal with no goals and only three shots on goal, all of which came in a drone of DC United. A well-timed return to form would be welcome.

In addition to Héber and Magno, Brazilian colleague Thiago Andrade could get a look after being on the field in New England and showing calm in the penalty shootout. He scored four times in 972 minutes this season. Veteran Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is also still an option in attack after his own PK mark and seven goals this year, but he has not scored a regular goal since August and last started a match in September.

Regardless of which player gets the opportunity, do not expect an answer from head coach Ronny Deila just yet, as he is trying to get a lead as possible by Sunday.

“We know Philadelphia, and they know us,” Deila said. “It’s been a long time since I played against them and they’re a really good team, so it’s going to be just as hard as [Tuesday]”But again, we know what we can do when we are at our best.”

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