Alexander Callens was a force on both sides of the ball for NYCFC. (USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Playmaker Maxi Moralez is gone.
So is goalkeeper and team captain Sean Johnson.
And you can add center back Alex Callens, the man who scored the winning penalty kick to boost New York City FC to the 2021 MLS Cup title and who was coming a brilliant 2022 MLS season, to the list.
Ditto for right back Anton Tinnerholm, who was one of the MLS’ finest at his position.
Forward Heber, who was dealt to the Seattle Sounders for as much as $550K in General Allocation Money in the offseason.
Midfielder Nicolas Acevedo also has been loaned to Esporte Clube Bahia in Brazil.
And oh yeah, let’s not forget Taty Castellanos, who left the team in midseason when he was loaned to Girona in Spain’s LaLiga.
Have we forgotten anybody?
That magnificent seven was vital contributors to the NYCFC squad over the past several seasons.
The big question is whether this team has the talent, depth and wherewithal to replace that those players and continue to be a viable contender in the Eastern Conference.
Nick Cushing, his interim title removed, is running the show. He will try to lead the Cityzens to glory with a revamped roster.
He has been forced to rebuild a team. There are some intriguing parts, and newcomers, but they are untested together.
Who will pick up the scoring slack?
Gabriel Pereira (nine goals) and Talles Magno (eight) have shown promise, but can they put the team on their backs when Castellanos did so many times. Or will NYCFC need to go out and bring in someone who can put the ball into the back of the net on a consistent basis.
With Johnson, Callens and Tinnerholm departed, Cushing has been charged to rebuild the backline, which has been the backbone of the team.
While Luis Barraza has shown promise in a limited role as a backup, and Matt Freese has been a reserve with the Philadelphia Union, will they be able to duplicate the fine performances of Johnson over the course of the regular season?
Who will pick up the leadership vacuum left by Johnson’s departure as team captain?
There are so many holes to fill for City to become the force it once was.
We’ll start seeing some of those answers starting on the very first MLS match of its 28th season when NYCFC plays at Nashville SC on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
One thing appears certain:
The team won’t be merry wanderers and nomads as it was last year, when City called six venues home.
The Cityzens are scheduled to play at Yankee Stadium, their home since joining the league in 2015, and at Citi Field in Queens, a long free kick away from their new stadium in Willets Point. That soccer park is scheduled to be completed by 2027.
If NYCFC winds up hosting a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match or two, it likely will play at Belson Stadium at St. John’s University, as it did in 2022.
And there is another question that we don’t know the answer of, because it is a wildcard.
With NYCFC’s parent club Manchester City in deep trouble for breaking English Premier League financial rules over several years, we don’t know what sort of punishment the EPL will mete out. It could range from points reduction, fines, transfer ban, and the nuclear option, relegation.
If it is a severe penalty, a logical question to ask is how this will affect NYCFC.
Will ManCity pump in more money into its flagship and put its American team on the backburner?
So many questions, but not many answers, at least not yet.