So, who will replace Taty Castellanos. celebrating his goal against New England on Tuesday night, in the NYCFC Starting XI Sunday? (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Given what he has accomplished this season, especially down the stretch, as the MLS Golden Boot winner, Taty Castellanos certainly is a hard act to follow for anyone in the league and a difficult player to replace.

New York City FC, however, will visit the Philadelphia Union in the most important soccer game in both team’s short history on Sunday without the 19-goal scorer. Castellanos was awarded a red card in the second extratime time of City’s shootout triumph over the New England Revolution on Tuesday night, forcing him to miss the MLS Eastern Conference final at Subaru Park in Chester, Pa.

To appreciate the 23-year-old striker’s accomplishment, the MLS Best member scored slightly more than one-third of City’s goals (56) this past season.

So, his loss will be felt.

While no NYCFC player can fill his soccer boots, they can at least fill Castellanos’ spot in the Starting XI.

So, who will head coach Ronny Deila choose to be his No. 9 against the Union?

Will it be Ismael Tajouri-Shradi? Or perhaps Heber? Or maybe it will be Thiago? Then there’s Talles Magno and Jesus Medina or even midfielder Andres Jasson.

.Of course, Deila wouldn’t reveal his decision or strategy, not with so much on the line.

When asked if a player’s match fitness, training performance or how he will fit into the coach’s game plan would help him make a decision, Deila replied, “I think all these things is important, but we have at least two maybe three players who can play that position.”

“If I take Tiago and it does well, we can also play a false nine. So, we have options.”

Heber enjoyed a fabulous debut season for the Cityzens in 2019, scoring 15 goals and adding four assists in 22 games. He suffered a knee injury last year before returning this season.

Deila has used Heber sparsely, as the Brazilian striker has played only 95 minutes over seven substitution appearances.

“Heber is, of course, a great option,” Deila said during a Friday Zoom call with tthe media. “Heber is is ready to play. He wants to play and I’m sure he will we’ll see him in the game as well.”

The coach later added: “I feel a little bit sad that I haven’t used it more because of Taty. He has been unbelievable.”

It sounded like Deila might use two players in that position, one who will start, the other will come off the bench.

“So it will be important to have both persons in there,” he said. “But I’m going to use them both. … Up front we have good backups.”

Midfielder Maxi Moralez admitted Castellanos’ absence will hurt, but he felt whoever manned the position will do well.

“It’s difficult for everyone on the team,” he said. “He’s an important player. He’s obviously has a goal streak going on and to miss a player like this is going to be difficult, but we trusted Ronny, the person that he’s going to put in [someone who] is going to do just as good of a job if not better.

“We know what’s at stake here. We’re playing for the final and we know that this player coming in, he’s going to look to win Ronny, his trust so that they can count on him in big moments. So, he’s going to come in with big energy.”