Things have been worse than they seem for New York’s MLS clubs.
Through two games, the Red Bulls sit on four points after drawing Real Salt Lake 1-1 last weekend, and NYCFC have limped to two narrow 1-0 defeats — one in which it played virtually the entire match a man down.
But both teams — even the point-less NYCFC — are lucky to have gotten the results they have.
Ignore the narrow scorelines from Saturday: Both teams were clobbered this past weekend. For 90 minutes, the Red Bulls and NYCFC hemorrhaged good chances to their opponents and hung on for dear life.
The Red Bulls saved two goals off the line, were badly outshot 21-4 and nabbed their goal from an extremely fluky long-range hit from Cristian Cásseres Jr. They will have felt disappointed in conceding the game’s tying goal in second-half stoppage time, but the match’s script was not at all consistent with its final result.
NYCFC weren’t quite as lucky, falling 1-0 on the road against a tough Toronto team after Ifunanyachi Achara’s winner. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson’s consistent heroics kept NYCFC in the game for 80 minutes, and they were also fortunate to escape conceding a penalty in the first half.
Now, neither team should be panicking after such a small sample size. The Red Bulls have been without star center back Aaron Long (hamstring) and NYCFC have yet to play a home game.
But if you were underwhelmed by either side this weekend, your eyes weren’t deceiving you. The numbers are even more condemning.
NYCFC (-3.3) and the Red Bulls (-3.5) are third-to-last and second-to-last, respectively, in expected goal (xG) differential thus far, per FB Ref. Expected goals is a statistic that measures the likelihood of a goal on a given chance, considering factors such as the chance’s location on the field and what part of the body is being used to score.
In simpler terms, NYCFC and the Red Bulls have conceded far more good chances this season than they’ve created themselves — a formula obviously not conducive to winning.
Based on the chances they’ve conceded and created, RBNY would be expected to have conceded 5.8 goals and scored just 2.3, even though their actual goal difference is +1.
NYCFC sits on zero points, but their xG numbers (0.9 for, 4.2 against) suggest they were fortunate to not lose by more than they have.
So, what is there to make of all this?
First, it’s clear NYCFC have an above-average, floor-raising goalie in Johnson. He’s been superb in both games and kept the team in them far longer than they should have been. His defense, which missed Maxime Chanot through suspension last weekend, will need to be stronger. But NYCFC knows they have a goalie who can sometimes bail them out, and that’s a vital piece for a team dreaming of a deep playoff run.
The Red Bulls will hope — not unfairly — that US national team defender Long will shore up their back line and make their playoff hopes more realistic. It’s not really on Long to create chances on the other end (the Red Bulls have been a roughly average offensive team based on XG), but he should make them an instantly better team and give them a larger margin of error each game.
Ultimately, both teams have time to improve their performances and we’ll have a clearer picture of how good they are (or not) with a larger sample size.
If their form fails to pick up, however? Their luck will run out sooner or later.