The quarterfinal-bound performance showed the 2021 MLS Cup champions are revving back to life, roughly two-and-a-half months removed from defeating the Portland Timbers in penalty kicks for the club’s first trophy.
And when combining that Audi MLS Cup Playoffs run with this early CCL venture, the Cityzens are now 11 games unbeaten across all competitions. When adding in preseason results, that total reaches 16. They last lost Oct. 17 against their Hudson River Derby rival, the New York Red Bulls.
“It took a little bit of time to understand the way we really wanted to play, but since we understand that, especially the few games before the playoffs, we can see we're in a good form,” center back Maxime Chanot said of NYCFC’s results. “We were seeing that during the playoffs and we see that during the preseason. We didn't lose any games and we can see tonight, everyone knows what they have to do. Everyone knows this task from the goalkeeper to the strikers, and I think we can feel it on the pitch.”
Getting there would mean navigating a congested spring calendar, starting with the quarterfinals in March against Guatemala's Comunicaciones FC in the buildup to the two-legged final later this April and May. But that’s no worry to head coach Ronny Deila, who dealt with compressed fixtures for much of 2021.
“We love to play games, so that's no problem,” Deila said. “Last year we played a game every three days and we are used to it. Now actually it's boring to train so much, so we just keep on playing. We want to win and if we get through in the Champions League we will have lots of games this spring.
“There's nothing better than that, so we prepare. We are fit, we have good consistency in the team, in the staff, everything. So we just want to continue with where we ended with two good games now against Santos.”
As the CCL march continues, Chanot takes confidence from NYCFC’s depth as well. Their key acquisition this offseason was DP center back Thiago Martins from City Football Group sister side Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan. Otherwise, it’s been about elevating youngsters amid a truncated departure list that’s led by homegrown midfielder/defender James Sands’ loan to Scotland’s Rangers FC.
Consider the above a testament to NYCFC’s scouting reach and depth that sporting director David Lee has assembled for Deila to work with.
“We are ready, we have a big squad,” Chanot said. “We know everybody can play, so I believe it's going to be more strength, the fact that we already played two games, [rather] than a weakness. I can't wait.”