MLS champions New York City F.C romped to an easy victory over an undermanned Santos de Guapiles in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League matchup. It was clear from the off that Santos’ strategy was to limit the damage, sitting deep in a 5-4-1 formation. This plan did not work as a first-half brace from Valentin Castellanos saw NYCFC to a comfortable victory. NYCFC dominated possession in a 4-2-3-1 with narrow wingers and overlapping fullbacks. Because of Santos’ deep block we got to see how NYCFC’s players did against a lower level of opposition that was playing a low block and trying to deny them space to work with.
- A1 – Very good, could play higher
- A2 – Strong potential to play higher
- B1 – Good, strong player at level
- B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
- C – Average for the level, re-watch
- D – Below average in this match
- Nationality: Argentinian
- Age: 23
- Date of Birth: 03/10/1998
- Current Club: NYCFC
- Career: Universidad De Chile, Torque, NYCFC
- Position: Striker
- Preferred Foot: Right
Castellanos stood out as by far the best player on the pitch in this match. Obviously, he scored two goals but his overall play was also excellent. As the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 Castellanos served as the focal point for the NYCFC attack. He frequently dropped deep to receive the ball and played good passes to teammates. In particular, he was pretty unfortunate that Talles Magno did not convert a golden opportunity that Castellanos created for him early in the match. There were also several times when Castellanos linked up with players earlier in buildups but that ultimately did not lead to a shot. Castellanos demonstrated an excellent first touch, vision, and passing ability when dropping deep to link up with teammates. When dropping deep he often had a defender right on his back. He was able to get out of these situations with his ability to turn quickly and within a small radius. On occasions when he received the ball in space he would turn and drive the ball forward, drawing opposing defenders and opening up space for NYCFC’s wide players. He showed a quick acceleration in these situations. In addition to dropping deeper, Castellanos also looked good when stretching the opposition backline. Although Santos played with a very deep block, Castellanos still managed to get in behind them a couple of times. As mentioned earlier his strong acceleration helped him with this, however, the Santos backline also had a hard time dealing with his top speed and his off-the-ball movement. Despite his slight build (he weighs just 154 pounds according to MLS’ official website) he regularly won aerial and physical duels. He has a strong vertical jump and does well to position himself so that it is difficult for opposition defenders to leap over him.
All in all, this was about as close to a perfect performance from the striker as you can get. We should be mindful, of course, that he was up against a depleted opponent from a weaker league overall. But he played fabulously and in a way that is consistent with his performances in MLS last season. I would be very interested to see how he does as NYCFC progress in the tournament and play stronger opposition (assuming Santos doesn’t pull off an astonishing turnaround in the second leg). He is reportedly the subject of a large bid from River Plate and was linked with a move to West Ham in the winter. I think that either of these would be a challenge he would be up for. But NYCFC, as part of City Football Group, is under no pressure to sell, and this is naturally going to limit Castellanos’ potential moves away because teams will have to cough up a lot more money for him.
- Nationality: Brazilian
- Age: 19
- Date of Birth: 26/06/2002
- Current Club: NYCFC
- Career: Vasco De Gama, NYCFC
- Position: Winger
- Preferred foot: Right
Talles Magno entered MLS with quite a bit of hype but didn’t break into the NYCFC starting lineup until late in the 2021 season. There were some things to like about his performance against Santos but there were also some areas for improvement. The young Brazilian showed good off-the-ball movement to get on the end of a few chances and receive the ball in dangerous areas. He had a big chance early, the result of a great run-in behind to receive the ball from Castellanos that he could not convert. Though nominally a winger he often started from a more central position and did a good job of making himself available for progressive passes from NYCFC’s defensive players. However, his play with the ball at his feet left a lot to be desired. He struggled to beat players 1v1, often dribbling into blind alleys and being forced to turn back or just being easily tackled by a Santos defender. He struggled to gain separation from opposing defenders. He could not accelerate quickly enough when the ball was played into space to get ahead of a defender if they started the footrace close to each other. His agility and ability to change direction looked pretty good but he couldn’t accelerate away from defenders fast enough to make it count when he turned with the ball. Despite his struggles, he did have one good on-the-ball moment, where he played a through ball to an overlapping fullback, but ultimately it did not lead to a shot. However, this was pretty much his only moment where he was able to pick out a teammate that wasn’t a backward pass. If he is to take the next step then improving his playmaking ability will be very important for him.
It’s perhaps a bit of a generous A2 but I think Talles Magno showed enough to suggest he has the potential to hit another level. His intelligent movement off the ball can take him far if he improves other areas of his game. This was NYCFC’s first competitive game of the season so rust may have been a factor in his play. But he is going to have to get a lot smarter and more creative with his dribbling if he is going to get to the next level, especially when he faces tougher opposition in the MLS regular season.