With the team’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance on the horizon, New York City FC forwards Valentín Castellanos, Gary Mackay-Steven have picked up form at just the right time.
Like most MLS sides, NYCFC has dealt with injuries and absences throughout 2020. Starting striker and the team’s top goalscorer in 2019, Heber saw his season come to an end in late September after an ACL tear in a game against Toronto FC. Castellanos, who was largely featuring as a substitute, has filled in up top.
The Argentine was inconsistent without Maxi Moralez behind him. Once Moralez returned after missing seven matches with an MLS injury, Castellanos started producing.
Five goals and three assists were enough to crown Castellanos MLS Player of the Month for October-November. The 22-year-old forward was crucial in NYCFC securing a home game in the first round of the playoffs with wins over the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire.
“Taty was unbelievable, the last two games he’s been flying,” Head Coach Ronny Deila said. “We have a striker now who can make a lot of damage.”
The 5-2 victory in the Hudson River Derby was a breath of fresh air after an inconsistent run of games from mid to late October. NYCFC had the chance of falling behind the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference, but an inspired Taty Castellanos carried the team to a convincing win.
Castellanos not only brought much-needed energy to the rivalry match but showcased his ability to play as a striker against a highly rated defense. His hat-trick began with a header, finding space and finishing a pinpoint ball from Moralez. He struck again, once again by being patient in the eighteen before half-volleying NYCFC to a two-goal lead. From the penalty spot, Castellanos completed his first career hat-trick.
The departure of Designated Player Alexandru Mitrita, as well as Ismael Tajouri-Shradi contracting COVID-19, left the team limited at the wings during a busy stretch of the season.
Filling in has been Mackay-Steven, who despite seeing a spike in his minutes, struggled to contribute on the scoresheet for almost the entire season. Now with goals in the last two games, Mackay-Steven has given NYCFC an additional threat out wide.
“I’ve been disappointed a lot of times, I could’ve scored a lot more goals,” Mackay-Steven said. “I’ve never lost you know confidence so that you just keep going and the chances keep coming. You know right now we’re in a good moment the team we’re playing well, and we’re creating a lot of chances so it’s nice to be on the end of them.”
Against both New York and Chicago, Mackay-Steven made explosive runs from the midfield in between defenders and getting on the end of a ball from Castellanos. The 30-year-old’s attempt to round Fire goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth almost squandered the chance, but a tight-angled finish was a promising sight as the team heads into the playoffs.
“Gary I’ve had in Celtic, I know he’s a great player,” Deila said. “I know he needs confidence and he needs trust.”
While Castellanos and Mackay-Steven have been able to fill shoes the last few weeks, Deila will have an additional spot to fill in his lineup to face Orlando City. The absence of centerback Alex Callens will likely see Deila turn to Sebastian Ibeagha, a substitution he made at halftime in Chicago.