CITY vs NYCFC: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly


by Cole Sutton

CITY grabbed their first MLS victory of the 2024 season Saturday night, dominating visiting NYCFC 2-0 in their first-ever trip to CITYPARK. Another sellout at home provided an incredible atmosphere from the opening whistle, fueling the Boys in Red to get back to that high-pressing style of play we fell in love with last season. St. Louis looked to bounce back after a disappointing loss in Houston on Tuesday night and they did just that, taking space on the rush and creating plenty of chances early, especially on the counter-attack.

Despite injuries and a packed schedule to begin the season CITY's backline put on a hell of a performance as GK Roman Bürki had a slow night between the posts. NYCFC registered only one shot on goal in seven attempts to STL's three shots on goal on 16 attempts. After Tim Parker didn't see the field & Joakim Nilsson exited early against the Dynamo, there were question marks on who exactly would be defending the New York attack Saturday night. The CB duo of Parker and Nilsson responded superbly shutting down plenty of chances from the opposition.

We break down some standout performances from a much-needed home win at CITYPARK.

The Good

Célio Pompeu

Pompeu took full advantage of the opportunity in front of him when placed into the starting lineup on Saturday night. The Brazilian was everywhere along the left side, drawing defenders out wide and creating plenty of space for the quick-advancing CITY attack. Célio's early opportunity around the sixth minute almost put the home club on the scoreboard early, taking a pass from AZ Jackson near the top of the box and rattling the post.

The 24-year-old made up for his near miss in the 34th minute, capping off a wonderful dribbling run cutting through multiple defenders at the top of the box with an even better finish at CITYPARK's South End. The former CITY2 product's opening goal erupted the sellout home crowd and was the momentum boost the club needed to grab a victory. Pompeu also tallied an assist on the second-half dagger from Sam Adeniran putting the contest out of reach.

Joakim Nilsson

After exiting the match early in Houston on Tuesday Nilsson came into Saturday's clash with NYCFC questionable due to a glute issue. With both Kyle Hiebert and Josh Yaro unavailable it was slim pickings for CITY's coaching staff on who would partner with Tim Parker at CB. Although signing Michael Wentzel to another short-term loan from CITY2, Nilsson was healthy enough to give it a go.

The Swedish international showed no signs of injury once the match kicked off, covering lots of ground and dominating physically from the very beginning. A couple of crucial tackles within the first half-hour of play kept CITY level allowing attackers to break out quickly for the counter-attack. A play that sticks in my head came around the 37th minute when an NYCFC long ball beat LB Anthony Markanich, who had joined the rush beforehand, giving the opposition a golden opportunity to create some offense. Nilsson was there in support and stopped the New York rush dead in its tracks, causing me to jot down "Nilsson having a monster night" in my game notes, and boy did he.

Performances like the 30-year-old's on Saturday are a testament to CITY's scouting department, finding an incredible defensive presence at Arminia Bielefeld in Germany and bringing him stateside on a free transfer. If Nilsson can stay off the injury report, having two consistent defensive pillars locking down the middle of the pitch will do wonders for the club both in and out of possession.

Sam Adeniran

"Big Sam" is putting head coach Bradley Carnell in a very tough spot. The former Seattle Sounders attacker has had an incredible start to the season with 11 total shots through only four games resulting in two goals. Adeniran saved a point in the MLS opener against Real Salt Lake and his goal in the 72nd minute Saturday night put CITY on a sure path to their first league win of the season. With João Klauss scoreless through three games (8 total shots, 1 on target) is there a possibility that CITY's co-leading scorer could lose his starting role?

We've seen St. Louis combine Klauss and Adeniran with a two-striker partnership up top as recently as the second-leg matchup against Houston which resulted in a 1-0 loss. While CITY took a more defensive approach with a lead on aggregate, supporters were left wondering if a sole striker would benefit the offense more than the Klauss/Adeniran duo.

That certainly seemed to be the case Saturday night as the 25-year-old attempted four shots with one finding the back of the net in the 72nd minute with an incredible one-touch finish at the near post. After Big Sam's performance through two MLS games, we may see Adeniran earn more starts either in place of Klauss or as part of a striker pairing.

Adeniran flexed both on and off the pitch on Saturday, attending the postgame press conference in an incredible Nigerian National Team tracksuit that actually belonged to his father who earned a national team call-up in the early 1990s. Adeniran joked that the vintage outfit had seen better days, but he still enjoys paying homage to his roots.

Honorable Mention: Indiana Vassilev

The Bad

Anthony Markanich

Everyone who appeared for CITY had a decent showing so I wasn't really sure who to select here. I'm not saying that Markanich's performance was terrible, just looking to choose someone who didn't totally stand out to me personally.

I thought Markanich, despite linking up well with Celio on the first goal, found himself out of position more than Totland on the right. The 24-year-old loves to push up and join the rush, especially in Bradley Carnell's system, and at times allowed NYCFC to funnel their attack out wide to CITY's left especially over the top.

In the postgame presser, Pompeu mentioned that he and Markanich are roommates on away trips which helps their communication on the pitch. The Brazilian midfielder told media that they pride themselves on covering for each other when the opposite joins the rush or drifts out of position. The duo worked well doing so on Saturday night, I just felt the former Colorado Rapids defender had the lesser performance out of the four defenders. Whether that says more about Markanich or the incredible shift by both CB's and newcomer Tomas Totland out wide, it was a great performance as a unit against New York.

Markanich was subbed off in the 89th minute for another newcomer, Nikolas Dyhr, who made his CITYPARK debut in the closing moments of the 2-0 clean sheet.

The Ugly

Replacement Referees

Photo courtesy of Jason Patrylo Photography.
Photo courtesy of Jason Patrylo Photography.

If you've been watching the first couple of league matchups for CITY and wondering why the officiating has been so much worse, you aren't going crazy. MLS and PRO (Professional Refeering Organization) failed to strike a deal in CBA negotiations that have been ongoing since February 18th when the PRO locked out MLS referees. With multiple organizations protesting outside the MLS headquarters in New York City, it doesn't seem that the issue will be solved anytime soon.

The officials tasked with stepping in and controlling first-division matches range from the youth level to MLS Next Pro, with over 14 games from MLS' second week being staffed by "replacement refs." With over 30 fouls called on Saturday night (20 on CITY, 14 on NYCFC) and eight total yellow cards, the officials failed to control emotions on the pitch. While there were no costly questionable calls, if the strike continues teams across the MLS could miss out on some much-needed points due to an unqualified official making a judgment call.

According to a league memo obtained by the Athletic, MLS executives were "pleased with the performance" of the stand-in officials.

The replacement ref's collective performance "Aligns with the professional standards observed in the past seasons, maintaining consistency in officiating quality," MLS executive VP Nelson Rodriguez said in the memo sent to MLS' board of governors.

Despite Rodriguez's quote, Saturday night at CITYPARK felt like a glaring example of how necessary properly trained and experienced officials are, especially later on in the season when teams are fighting for playoff positioning.

Looking Ahead

CITY will hit the road for their next two weekend matchups, visiting Austin FC on Saturday, March 9th then making the trip out west to visit the LA Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park on the following Saturday, March 16th. With no mid-week competitions after the early exit in the Concacaf Champions Cup, the boys will have plenty of time to rest and get fully healthy for the lengthy MLS season ahead. If you're looking to join the party at CITYPARK, you'll have to wait until March 23rd when the Boys in Red clash with Chris Durkin's former club D.C. United.