"We have a top striker": NYCFC's Valentin Castellanos hailed after brace vs. Miami

As Heber continues to recover from a torn ACL he suffered in September 2020, there’s increased pressure on Valentin Castellanos to lead the line for New York City FC.

At least on Saturday night, it was mission accomplished for the 22-year-old Argentine striker.

Castellanos scored twice to lead NYCFC to a 2-0 win over Inter Miami CF at Red Bull Arena. He now has five goals in the Cityzens’ last six games, all as they climb to second place in the Eastern Conference and reach six games unbeaten in league play.

He’s shouldering a bigger workload than perhaps desired, yet is answering the call. And each goal is a reminder that his ceiling is quite high, both in MLS and possibly beyond.

“Off the pitch he does everything right all the time, he’s fit and he battles,” NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said. “Right now he can do it alone, but we have more depth in the squad and we could play two up front as well when Talles \[Magno\] is more fit and Heber is back again. What Taty has done this year has been top class."

Castellanos began with a headed finish in the 21st minute, contorting his body to steer a Maxi Moralez cross past Miami goalkeeper Nick Marsman. That Argentine connection didn’t quite come good during their Leagues Cup quarterfinal defeat to Pumas UNAM last Wednesday, but it flourished in Week 19 to help capture three points.

“The pass from Maxi was superb, and the finish, I don’t need to say anything about that – it was top, top class,” Deila said. “He’s difficult to play against, Taty, again playing all the games and to put in that performance, fighting like he did on Wednesday night is something I’m really impressed by. Good to get two more goals, now he has three in two games. We have a top striker.”

Castellanos then bagged his second in first-half stoppage time, opting for the Panenka finish on a penalty kick. It was indicative of a confident striker, one who signed a new five-year contract through 2025 this past May.

“These are the type of things we decide in the moment,” Castellanos said of his PK. “I knew that lately I have been doing good at those, and when I saw the opportunity I seized it. I was able to score exactly as planned.”

NYCFC’s No. 11 now has eight goals and six assists this season, putting him well on pace to surpass his career-high totals from the 2019 campaign. His hold-up play and runs in behind are two other strengths, bringing less-heralded parts to the attack.

At this rate, perhaps Castellanos will mount a challenge for the Golden Boot presented by Audi as well. He’s a few shy of pace-setter Gustavo Bou (New England Revolution), though it sounds like he’d gladly take more wins instead.

“I am very happy for the win front and foremost, and for the goals as well,” Castellanos said. “I’m always looking to score goals, every single game, and when it comes to confidence – I’m always confident. The coaching staff and everyone on the support team helps a lot with making sure we’re in the best position.”