New York City FC haven’t made an official announcement, but everything about Saturday night’s home game against Inter Miami CF screamed that it was likely Taty Castellanos’ last game for the club.
The supporters raised a banner in Yankee Stadium's bleachers thanking him, and Heber, Castellanos' likely heir apparent, honored the 23-year-old Argentine with his goal celebration after scoring the clinching goal in a 2-0 win.
Castellanos himself, after receiving a curtain call when he was subbed off in the 61st minute, even took an extra lap around the stadium following the final whistle to salute the crowd who adores him.
Castellanos will reportedly soon move on to newly-promoted LaLiga side Girona, another City Football Group team in Europe, but his legacy in New York will live on.
It’s a legacy, of course, of goals, and a lot of them – 50 in the regular season and three more in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, where he helped lead NYCFC to a first-ever MLS Cup title last December.
“He is New York”
Only David Villa, the club’s first-ever signing, scored more than Castellanos, who won the Golden Boot presented by Audi a year ago. Now, his 13 goals this season top that list before Week 22’s conclusion.
But there’s even more to Castellanos’ legacy, according to interim head coach Nick Cushing.
“I think his passion and his drive and his hunger to work for the team. I think his hunger and desire to be in the box and to be a killer in the box is there, and I think people fall in love with him because he plays with his heart and his passion,” Cushing said after the match. “And he plays for New York. I think you will always remember that whether he’s here, whether he’s in another part of the world, he is Taty Castellanos and he is New York.”
The Cityzens’ fans, who have fallen in love with Castellanos since his 2018 arrival (initially on loan from Uruguay’s Torque), showed their support on perhaps his final Saturday night in the Bronx. It was a moment of love for a star cultivated in City Blue.
“I think the reception is because of what he has done for the team, what he’s done for the team this season, what he’s done for the team last season,” Cushing said. “He’s a crowd favorite. So if you take him off in the game, the crowd’s going to show him appreciation because they love him.
“If Taty comes off the pitch or finishes the game, he deserves all of the plaudits for the way that he plays the game. And if this was his last game, I’m really proud of our fans that we gave him a real ovation when he came off because he’ll remember that.”
WATCH: Last NYCFC match? Taty Castellanos exits to standing ovation
If this indeed was Castellanos’ last game, as is expected, who fills the No. 9 role for NYCFC?
Heber, although the Brazilian touts a different skillset, shares that ruthlessness in the box. Since coming back from a torn ACL suffered in September 2020, Heber has filled that spot when Castellanos has been out – through injury or suspension – and he’s scoring like he did back in 2019, when he bagged 15 goals in his first season after arriving from Croatian side HNK Rijeka as a Targeted Allocation Money signing.
“I think you can see in our squad we have quality. We’ve had two moments where Taty’s been suspended and one where he carried an injury and we put Heber in and he scored two in Cincinnati, he scored in Dallas, he’s come on today and scored again,” Cushing said. “So Heber is a ruthless No. 9 and is one that has shown since his knee injury, how hard he’s worked and how clinical he is in the box.”
But Heber isn’t the only option currently on the roster and there’s always a chance the Cityzens now shop for a replacement before the close of the Secondary Transfer Window on Aug. 4.
“I also think [Talles] Magno would like a go there,” Cushing said. “We could put Talles as a No. 9; he’s a good player and when you say are we going to bring somebody in? Recruitment is an ongoing thing for us. We’re looking all over the world consistently and continually to make sure that if we do bring a player in, it’s to strengthen our team.”