Voices: Joseph Lowery

Why NYCFC's Taty Castellanos could mitigate Haaland's departure for Borussia Dortmund

It’s begun. The summer transfer window craziness, that is.

With Erling Haaland officially joining Manchester City from Borussia Dortmund, the summer transfer window is already off to a strong start. Haaland isn’t the first piece of the European transfer puzzle to fall into place (and he certainly won’t be the last), but his upcoming move to City could cue some of the other pieces to start moving, too.

Dortmund will likely be in the market for a striker to replace some of Haaland’s production. Once Dortmund make their move, another team may have to start that same replacement process. Then the same process goes on and on at different clubs, and all of a sudden we’re looking at a striker carousel.

One name that will undoubtedly feature on that striker carousel is New York City FC’s Valentin "Taty" Castellanos. Castellanos was the best striker in MLS last season, scoring 19 goals and winning the league’s 2021 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi. The 23-year-old is off to a hot start in 2022 as well, with five goals in 682 league minutes this season.

With teams always in the market for a high-level No. 9, top European clubs like Dortmund (Bundesliga or elsewhere) should spend some time looking at Castellanos.

Here’s why.

The numbers love him

Looking beyond his goals and assists figures (which were excellent last season), the underlying numbers are in love with Castellanos. According to Second Spectrum, the Argentine striker led MLS in open-play expected goals last season. He also finished in the 97th percentile in xG per 90 minutes among players who saw at least 1,000 minutes of on-field action in 2021. So far this year, Castellanos ranks in the 96th percentile in open-pay xG per 90 minutes.

With excellent movement and speed (Castellanos is in the 92nd percentile in MLS in top sustained speed this year, per Second Spectrum), NYCFC’s striker regularly finds good spaces to receive the ball while inside the box. Look at the movement on his headed goal against the New England Revolution in last year’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Castellanos waits for the right moment to make a hard run directly in front of the opposing fullback – and when that moment comes, he attacks the ball and heads it into the back of the net.

This play, from NYCFC’s wild 5-4 win over Toronto FC last month, is another great example of Castellanos’ movement. In this clip, he sees the play developing on the right wing and runs directly into the channel between two opposing center backs before scoring with a sliding finish.

When you watch plays like the two up above, it’s no wonder the underlying numbers love Castellanos. He has the high-level spatial awareness and the athleticism to punish opposing defenders. Strong off-ball movement from a No. 9 is something every team in the world needs. It just so happens Castellanos’ movement is good enough for him to make an impact with a major European team.

Well-rounded attacking skill set

Playing for New York City FC, Castellanos has experience operating within a well-oiled attacking machine. Over the last couple of seasons, NYCFC have been one of the league’s best teams in possession and in attacking transition. In both of those phases of play, Castellanos can use his combination of speed, strength, and technical ability to help his teammates.

With his passing and link-up play, Castellanos is an excellent facilitator. Per FBref, he is in the 80th percentile or higher among MLS forwards in each of the following passing stats, per 90 minutes:

  • Assists
  • Expected assists
  • Key passes
  • Passes into the penalty area

According to Second Spectrum, Castellanos leads strikers in MLS this season in both passes that produce a shot per 90 minutes and total xA. Zooming out a bit, NYCFC’s talisman is also 10th in the entire league in xA this season. That means Castellanos is creating more and better quality shooting chances for his teammates than a huge chunk of MLS’s attacking midfielders.

This pass to Malte Amundsen in the box shows what he can do in tight spaces. Castellanos draws attention away from Amundsen before simply touching the ball back to the left back for a shot:

You can see it in the above clip, but it’s apparent Castellanos’ movement and his passing are connected. So much of the time, he creates passing angles for his teammates or passing opportunities for himself by moving aggressively off the ball. According to American Soccer Analysis, Castellanos adds more value with his ability to receive passes than almost any other striker in MLS. He finished second in the league in 2020 and seventh in 2021 in the “receiving” category of ASA’s goals added metric among strikers with at least 500 minutes.

On top of being an elite chance-creating forward, Castellanos is a physical presence, too. He recorded more aerial duels than any other striker in MLS last year and his 0.029 aerial duels per possession have him in the 92nd percentile among strikers in 2022.

With his chance-creation numbers, his receiving, his movement and his physicality, Castellanos is an elite, well-rounded forward.

Defensive work rate

Castellanos doesn’t just add value when he has the chance to go to work in the attack. No, he also runs tirelessly when NYCFC are hunting and trying to win the ball back.

In 2021, Castellanos finished fourth among strikers in MLS with at least 1,000 minutes in pressures per 90 minutes, averaging 31.9. He also finished fourth among strikers with at least 200 minutes in total distance covered per 90 minutes. Tasked with defending at the top of NYCFC’s 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 defensive shape, Castellanos often steps between opposing center backs to split the field in half, which then makes it easier for all of New York City’s outfield players to trap the ball against the sideline.

When NYCFC counter-press, Castellanos is one of the first players ready to close down the ball. According to Second Spectrum, the Argentine finished fourth in the league last year in counter pressures per 90 among strikers with at least 1,000 minutes played. Castellanos’ defensive work rate raises his floor. Because he runs so much, a European suitor can count on his willingness to move and defend in transition and in a more established defensive block.

By looking at his tape and his numbers, it’s pretty easy to tell Castellanos is ready to take the next step in his career (reported $20 million asking price by NYCFC). In fact, he could very well be one of the best players to ever spend time in MLS and make a move abroad. After winning individual accolades and team-wide trophies in the United States, a smart European team would be wise to snap up Castellanos at some point during this summer’s striker carousel.