New York City FC 2016 Review
New York City FC has only played two full seasons in the MLS, but they are already one of the best teams in the league. The club had a disastrous first year that saw them finish in 17th place in the league. A few key additions and a managerial change helped and NYCFC finsihed with the fourth best regular season record last year and second place in the Eastern Conference. The team is hoping to continue their winning ways, but it will not be easy after overhauling the roster in the offseason.
The biggest changes will come at the midfield and goalie positions. The retirement of Frank Lampard is a huge blow to New York City FC. While Lampard was regularly injured during his two years with the club, he was also one of the team’s best players. NYCFC is hoping to fill the void left by Lampard with the recently signed Alexander Ring. The young Finnish midfielder has experience in the Bundesliga, so he should be able to contribute immediately for New York City FC. Former top draft pick Jack Harrison will also be fully healthy for the first time in his young career. If Harrison plays up to his high expectations, then he will be a key contributor to the team in 2017.
New York City FC knew they needed to make a change at the goaltender position after giving up seven goals in their playoff matchup with Toronto FC last year. Former starting goalie Josh Saunders was shipped to Orlando City earlier this year. This move allowed NYCFC to acquire Sean Johnson from the Chicago Fire. Johnson has proven to be one of the best goalies in the MLS during his time in Chicago, so he should have no problem locking up the starting goalie spot for New York City FC this preseason.
Patrick Vieira is a firm believer in the 4-3-3 and the team’s moves this year suggest he’s satisfied with that approach. Reigning MLS MVP David Villa will lead the attack for sure. On the wings, Vieira has some options. Harrison likely will play on the right wing as he did last year, and Khiry Shelton will likely be the starter on the left. Newcomer Lewis could see some time on the left, but Lewis is likely to be away from New York for much of the first half of the year due to his commitments with the US U-20s. As such, Lewis is probably only going to be used as a sub for most of the first half. Left wing was where Tommy McNamara lived last year, but with Lampard now gone expect T-Mac to take a more central role.
Andrea Pirlo will once again play towards the back pulling the strings. The rest of NYCFC’s tactics revolve around trying hide Pirlo’s defensive inability/indifference. The CDM will be crucial here, with Ring and another possible signing having to pull the work of two mids. NYC will return its two exciting fullbacks with Costa Rican international Ronald Matarita providing speed on the left and Allen providing excellent crossing from the right. In center, Callens is largely expected to win one of the spots, leading Brilliant and Chanot to fight for the last spot. Sean Johnson will be in the back, and while there are doubts about his passing ability in Vieira’s system, he should provide better goalkeeping than what the Pigeons saw from Saunders.
Expected New York City Lake line-up at time of writing
New York City has quietly and quickly shifted from one of the oldest teams in their first season to now one of the youngest. While the playoffs would be enough in their second season, in year two with David Villa continuing to be one of the league’s best players NYCFC should reasonably expect to be in the rooms where it happens and contend for silverware. Whether that can happens depends on how successful Tommy McNamara’s move to the center of the pitch can replace Lampard’s contributions and whether NYCFC can find a strong enough defensive midfield to provide suitable cover for the backline. Last year New York City made the playoffs by scoring a lot of goals to win shootouts with opponents and that’s the formula they’ll have to follow again unless Callens and Johnson improve the defense more than expected. Unfortunately, I have doubts that the world of Yankee Stadium is wide enough to allow any defense to consistently shine. They should make the playoffs again, but they have a shot at the Supporters Shield and other silverware if their defense doesn’t throw their shot away.
Can the Young Mix With the Old?
If New York City FC can get solid contributions from their new players, then they should have no problem returning to the playoffs this season. The club is set up to succeed because they have two of the best players in the league. David Villa may be aging, but he continues to impress in the MLS. The Spanish striker recorded 23 goals and four assists last season, which helped him earn the 2016 MLS MVP award. Villa was able to score so many goals because of the beautiful passing of midfielder Andrea Pirlo. Villa and Pirlo are two of the best soccer players of their generation, and they continually show off their skills in the MLS. NYCFC can expect to get tough competition from the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC, but they look prepared to make a deep run in the playoffs in 2017.