Shorthanded NYCFC seeking first U.S. Open Cup win
Dome Torrent likely will have just 13 field players to choose from, and his backline will be best described as experimental.
But the New York City FC manager said there’s no question of his team’s intentions Wednesday night. The Cityzens enter the U.S. Open Cup with a fourth-round tie against North Carolina FC at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University.
“It’s another competition, and we will try to win the first game and after, the next game,” Torrent said after training at St. John’s Monday. “It’s important for us. The problem is right now we have just 13 field players. But the competition is in this moment, on FIFA days, and I repeat I will try to win the first game, and after that when you start another competition, the goal is to try to win.”
Win in the U.S. Open Cup is something NYCFC has yet to do. It was twice eliminated by the New York Cosmos, and there were two defeats to the New York Red Bulls, including last year’s 4-0 drubbing at Red Bull Arena.
Other than the shorthanded roster due to injuries and international call-ups, NYCFC has more young American talent than ever before, depth players who are needed to make a deep tournament run.
Four of those players — Keaton Parks, Juan Pablo Torres, Justin Haak and Danny Bedoya — were confirmed in Torrent’s starting XI, a rarity for the second-year coach, who is usually more tight-lipped about his selections.
Parks, who arrived on loan from Portuguese powerhouse Benfica in January, has played a total of 55 minutes across five league matches, with a 27-minute stint in a 5-2 win over FC Cincinnati Thursday at Yankee Stadium his longest outing of the season.
Haak, the club’s third Homegrown signing, made his debut in four minutes off the bench against FC Cincy, while Bedoya and Torres will see their first action in an official match on Wednesday.
“If you want to win something, you have to play with the whole team. It’s impossible to win something just with 14 players,” Torrent said. “They deserve to play because they show me in every single training they are ready. The pity for them, and even for me, is I have to choose the right players and right now our team is in good form.”
With Maxime Chanot and Ronald Matarrita on international duty, and Ben Sweat and Joe Scally injured, NYCFC will field a skeleton backline in front of Brad Stuver, who earned the start against FC Cincinnati with Sean Johnson away with the USMNT.
Sebastien Ibeagha is the lone centerback on the roster. With Torrent hinting he’d prefer to play the same way against North Carolina as he did versus FC Cincinnati (4-3-3), it means some creativity is needed on defense.
A player who could’ve slotted there, and did at times last year, is Alex Ring, but Torrent said the club’s captain is out with a slight knee injury.
One possibility would be for Tony Rocha to move over to centerback from left back, where he started last game. Anton Tinnerholm also could play centrally, which likely would move Torres to outside back for the first time in his professional career.
“We have enough forwards, but not enough defenders,” Torrent lamented. “That means maybe we play the same way last game against Cincinnati, but we have to adapt some players, midfielders or fullbacks like centerbacks. I don’t know, I have 90 percent my idea, but I need to speak with two players because maybe they are comfortable to play centerback.”
Coached by Dave Sarachan, the former interim USMNT manager, North Carolina FC is currently sixth in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference, six points behind leaders Tampa Bay Rowdies. North Carolina defeated Tampa Bay, 3-1, on Saturday.
Sarachan’s team beat the Richmond Kickers of USL League One, 4-1, in the U.S. Open Cup second round and knocked off Florida Soccer Soldiers of the United Premier Soccer League, 1-0, in the third round.
“I watched the last three games. They play a little bit similar to Cincinnati,” Torrent said of North Carolina. “They play with the wingers wide, but on the sideline and sometimes the fullbacks go inside. It’s a good team, a good USL team. And I have respect for this team because if not you make a mistake and they play really well.”
Torrent said that North Carolina looks to possess the ball instead of playing long out of the back is also a positive for NYCFC.
“They have faster players in their wingers and they want to play,” Torrent said. “It’s good news for us because we prefer to play against these kind of teams. When they want to play it’s better for us because when that happens you are organized 100 percent.”