Once Manchester City’s sibling, NYC FC is now more like a distant cousin

Photograph: Paul Chiasson/AP

Before New York City FC, there was only Manchester City under the City Football Group (CFG) umbrella. The establishment of Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise in 2013 marked the creation of a new global soccer entity that would soon enough stretch across five continents and count several clubs among its network, but CFG’s first outpost outside the UK was in New York.

This was to NYC FC’s benefit. While Manchester City has always been CFG’s primary focus, a strong connection was forged between the Premier League and MLS siblings. Four City players were signed to be part of NYC FC’s squad for their debut season in 2015. Over the next few years, City sent some of their prospects (including Angelino and Yangel Herrera) to the Bronx for first-team experience and NYC FC sent some of their best players in the other direction – see Frank Lampard and Jack Harrison.

Related: NYC FC’s years in wilderness to end with construction of permanent home

Now, though, the traffic between the two clubs has slowed almost to a complete stop. In fact, CFG is increasingly funnelling players away from New York. NYC FC, who haven’t received a player directly from Manchester City in recent years, have seemingly fallen down the CFG pecking order.

Alexander Callens, for example, left NYC FC at the end of his contract to sign for Girona, the Spanish La Liga club part-owned by CFG and Pep Guardiola’s brother, Pere. Callens was an integral part of Nick Cushing’s team, but that didn’t stop CFG from placing the defender at another one of their clubs.

This came just six months after Taty Castellanos, NYC FC’s best player and top scorer, was also sent to Girona. Even more painful was that the Argentinian striker was sent to Spain on loan – Castellanos is still technically on NYC FC’s books. Replacing Castellanos mid-season was impossible and Cushing has still to find a goalscorer capable of filling his boots.

Santi Rodriguez was sent back to Montevideo City Torque, a Uruguayan club acquired by CFG in 2017, at the end of last season while Nico Acevedo’s loan spell from Bahia was also ended almost as soon as CFG bought a majority share in the Brazilian club last month. Meanwhile, NYC FC have yet to make a single notable new signing for the 2023 MLS season, which starts in under a month – Tony Alfaro, Matt Freese, Mitja Ilenic and Gabriel Segal are all depth additions.

Even if NYC FC manage to get some new players through the door before their opening fixture against Nashville on 25 February, their squad rebuild won’t be complete. Talles Magno has the potential to become the club’s new No 9 while Thiago Andrade will receive more game time now that the competition for places has been cleared out. Tayvon Gray is another youngster NYC FC fans are excited to see more of. There are, however, too many holes to plug in just one off-season.

The disintegration of the NYC FC squad is all the more remarkable because of where they were less than two years ago. 2021 saw the franchise win its first ever MLS Cup, in large part due to good scouting and recruitment, but that winning team was quickly broken apart. Of the 11 players who started the championship game against Portland, only three – Gray, Maxime Chanot and Alfredo Morales – are still at the club (Castellanos and James Sands are out on loan). In a sense, winning MLS Cup was the worst thing to ever happen to NYC FC.

CFG may argue they are focusing on building a long-term, sustainable future for NYC FC through the construction of a new stadium. After years of playing on a baseball field at Yankee Stadium, plans for a new 25,000-capacity venue in Queens were announced in November. A permanent home will finally allow NYC FC to put roots down, but at an estimated cost of $780m.

That outlay could affect the transfer business done by the NYC FC front office, although the club is among the best in MLS at finding talent. “We’re not going to rush in to adding just any players,” said Cushing. “We’ve seen over many years that we can spot talent … whether that’s through the academy or the transfer market.” Indeed, it’s entirely possible NYC FC’s next cycle will bring just as much success as the last one, even if the start to the 2023 season is rough.

Initially founded as one of MLS’s marquee franchises with the pulling power to attract some of the sport’s biggest names, CFG has since remoulded NYC FC as a club that develops players for others. In CFG’s hierarchy, NYC FC no longer hold the position they did only a few years ago, certainly when they were founded a decade ago. Once called Manchester City’s sister team, they are now more like a distant cousin.

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