Cushing: NYCFC will "be patient" in transfer market to replace key players

Nick Cushing NYCFC preseason

New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing, given how many key names have departed this winter, recognizes the perennial Eastern Conference contender needs to sign players.

But on Thursday, from preseason camp in California, Cushing delivered a consistent message: They’ll arrive in due course.

“I think we've seen over many years that we can spot talent and we can add talent, whether that's in the academy and growing our talent or it's adding through the transfer market,” said Cushing, whose interim tag was removed in November after taking over for now-Standard Liège manager Ronny Deila midway through the 2022 campaign.

“We'll be patient, we'll make sure that we have the right players. And those players can continue the growth of this team over many years – not just this season in the short-term, but over many years.”

That falls in lockstep with NYCFC’s transfer approach since entering MLS, tapping into the City Football Group scouting network they benefit from. They’ve already brought in Slovenian youth international right back Mitja Ilenič this offseason, yet their business isn’t done before a 2023 season opener on Feb. 25 at Nashville SC (4:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FOX).

“I'm confident that we're going to be competitive come the 25th of February,” Cushing said. “But getting business done comes in many, many forms. One thing I can guarantee is that we're not going to rush into having just any players.”

Core fades away

While Cushing did not highlight specific targets or positions of need, the list of Winter 2022-23 outgoings fills in all the roster cracks:

  • MLS all-time great No. 10 Maxi Moralez was transferred to his boyhood Argentine team (Racing Club)
  • Peruvian international center back Alex Callens signed with CFC sister side Girona (Spain) after exploring MLS free agency, reuniting with striker Taty Castellanos (who’s still on loan at the midtable LaLiga side)
  • Club captain and US men’s national team goalkeeper Sean Johnson signed with Toronto FC in free agency
  • Longtime right back Anton Tinnerholm is back in his native Sweden (Malmo FF),
  • Brazilian striker Héber was traded to Seattle Sounders FC
  • Attacking midfielder Santiago Rodríguez’s loan from CFC sister side Montevideo City Torque expired
  • Defensive midfielder Nicolas Acevedo got loaned to Brazilian top-flight side Bahia

That list contains five of the top six players in NYCFC’s all-time appearance chart; only Luxembourg international center back Maxime Chanot remains from that group. Just three starters and two playing substitutes (five of 14 players) are left from NYCFC’s squad that won MLS Cup 2021, their first-ever trophy. And much of the same group lifted the Campeones Cup 2022 title as well.

Even still, Cushing said the standard won't waver for a club that’s made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs every year since 2016 (only missed in 2015 as an expansion team).

“I'm more than confident that our team will be as, if not more, competitive than it has been in previous seasons,” Cushing said, then highlighting core roster pieces that remain. “My focus as the head coach is to continue to grow the likes of Keaton Parks, Maxime Chanot, Alfredo Morales, Gabriel Pereira, Talles Magno in the short term.

“We have a really competitive roster as it stands now, so we can only get better with continuous improvement. It's complex, negotiations are complex. But as a group, as a coaching staff, I'm more than confident we'll be a better team than we've been previously.”

Finding the "right players"

For now, NYCFC fans are left waiting for deals to get over the line and hoping sporting director David Lee can reconstruct what’s traditionally among MLS’s deepest rosters. They should have some Designated Player flexibility, too, after Magno and center back Thiago Martins held those tags in 2022. 

“We have to have the right players,” said the Englishman. “I think the one thing that people can see is that we have a very defined style, so we know what we're looking for, and we just need to make sure that we have the right players and the right people to continue the growth of our team.”