NYCFC suffer “unacceptable” setback as Charlotte FC dream of playoffs

Reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC dropped their third straight match Wednesday evening, losing 3-1 to expansion side Charlotte FC at Red Bull Arena.

The Cityzens are now winless in their last four games (3L, 1D) and have gone from legitimate Supporters’ Shield contenders to sliding down the Eastern Conference table. They're still in third place above rival New York Red Bulls with 42 points, but form is eluding them.

Despite the rut, interim head coach Nick Cushing emphasized he strongly believes a turnaround is near.

"I'm well aware of football in general, you can't get too high when you win and you can't get too low when you lose,” Cushing said. “It was only what? Four, five weeks ago we were talking about clean sheets, and we were talking about undefeated streaks, and now we're in a run of three defeats."

Club captain and goalkeeper Sean Johnson was remarkably direct when assessing NYCFC's string of results.

“It’s honestly not a good moment for us as a group," Johnson said. "Losing three in a row is unacceptable. We understand we have to put in performances since there are nine games left in the season. We can only look forward, but we have to figure out how to get things right. It’s not for a lack of effort, but we keep getting the same results. Ultimately we just have to figure out how to get over this hump once we figure out what it is.”

Cushing, who was an assistant coach with NYCFC before taking over when Ronny Deila departed for Belgium's Standard Liege in June, pointed to last season as an example. The Bronx bunch went through a two-month stretch from mid-August to mid-October where they won just one game, before getting hot and beating the Portland Timbers on their own turf for a historic playoff title.

"We were in this position last year when we had a bad spell,” Cushing said. “That spell was a lot longer than it is now and we just have to stay together, keep working. And of course, when you win and you win a lot of games, people say you're really good, and when you lose some games, it's a catastrophe. We just need to concentrate. There's a lot more games to play. We need to focus, regroup, recover, and move on to Chicago."

Aside from Deila's exit, NYCFC are also finding their way after reigning Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Taty Castellanos was loaned to LaLiga's Girona this summer and no direct replacement was brought in. Central midfielder Keaton Parks has been sidelined with a lower leg blood clot, and center back Alexander Callens is dealing with an MCL injury – three key absences up their spine.

The team’s depth has been tested, and even with a slightly shorthanded roster, Cushing still believes the answer is within the dressing room.

“I think every time you lose, especially when it is back-to-back, you start to get frustrated," Cushing said. "When I look into the guys’ eyes, they are so hungry and motivated to fix this. You saw it tonight in the way that they worked. We are not going to overthink this. It is three defeats in a very good season. "

Charlotte gets hope

As much as NYCFC have been slumping, Wednesday night’s result proved massive for Charlotte FC's playoff hopes as they look to stretch their expansion season into the playoffs. They're now just one point back of a playoff spot – in 10th place with eight games remaining – and trying to navigate out of the crowded Eastern Conference heap.

After the match, Charlotte midfielder Brandt Bronico had only one thing on his mind.

“Playoffs, that's it. That's all I think about every day. It's getting three points and making playoffs,” he said.

The win over NYCFC was Charlotte's second road coup of the year. It also saw them resoundingly respond from a 5-0 defeat at Supporters' Shield-leading LAFC over the weekend.

"At this moment the changing room is ecstatic, they are so happy," interim manager Christian Lattanzio said. "The importance of this win is also in terms of creating the belief, the belief that we can win away against the biggest teams and play with courage to get the result. This is the most important thing.

"Being a young team – meaning not necessarily that all our players are young, but a young team in the sense that they've been together for only a few months, face highs and lows – they play with a lot of maturity, they play with a lot of spirit. We are cementing that. The results help to cement this spirit."