NYCFC forward Valentín Castellanos after last Sunday's victory over the...

NYCFC forward Valentín Castellanos after last Sunday's victory over the Red Bulls. Credit: NYCFC / Katie Cahalin

New York City FC teetered on a potential late-season collapse just a month ago.

Coming off a three-game winning streak, NYCFC loaned designated player Alexandru Mitrita to a Saudi Arabian club on Oct. 8, potentially moving him permanently so the Romanian national could be closer to family. A lackluster home loss to New England followed, and an Oct. 14 draw at Orlando was overshadowed before kickoff when James Sands was ruled out for the rest of the regular season with a foot fracture. The club’s winless streak reached three with a road loss at Columbus a few days after.

But instead of spiraling into the lower portion of the Eastern Conference standings, and potentially into the play-in round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, NYCFC (11-8-3, 36 points) is locked into a play-in bye and still is in contention for a home match to kick off its postseason. Riding a three-game winning streak entering Decision Day, the club needs a road win Sunday over the Chicago Fire plus a Columbus Crew loss against Atlanta United to secure a home match against the Crew in the first round.

NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said his squad’s resilience is a good reminder of a simple fact — this is a team sport.

"It says something about football," Deila said. "It’s not about the players, it’s about the team. No individuals, it’s not about one player, it’s about the whole squad and the way we train, the culture we have, how clear things are so we know exactly what to do on the pitch so we trust each other."

NYCFC began its history as a club built on individuals, signing European icons David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard in its debut 2015 season. But with Villa the last of the trio departing after 2018, and designated player slots going to less familiar faces, a team effort became a necessity. That resulted in a club-record 64 points in 2019, but an early playoff exit.

Deila, who succeeded Domènec Torrent last offseason, believes the team concept needs to become permanent for the club as NYCFC seeks a postseason breakthrough.


"That culture has to go away. If one player goes away the whole team falls apart? I’ve never been through that in my entire life," Deila said.

Deila may not enjoy discussing individuals, but personnel is key to the club’s late resurgence, specifically in the attack.

Maxi Moralez returned as a substitute against Columbus and started each of the next three matches. He’s contributed a goal and an assist since rejoining the squad, but Moralez’s presence alone has given Jesús Medina and Gary Mackay-Steven a chance to take ownership of their roles on the wings, with Valentín Castellanos doing the same at striker. That quartet combined for seven goals and three assists in the last three matches.

No matter who is on the field, Deila hopes the team's overall development translates come playoff time.

"There’s so much ability in this squad and I think we’re improving every day in the way we play and how we want to do things, and also the way we act in training and inside the games. I think discipline and the focus is totally different than in the beginning of the season."

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