What Are They All About? NYCFC
Just keep swimming. This past weekend the Chicago Fire earned a point on the road in Seattle, drawing the Sounders 1-1, but will feel that they left two points on the table after an inspiring performance. Aleksander Katai reiterated his intent to stay in Chicago with yet another wonder goal amidst a typical fluid performance in midfield. While the players and supporters had mixed feelings about the result against a poor Seattle side—the Sounders remained in the bottom three of the West after the match—head coach Veljko Paunovic had a much more positive view. He stated, “I think that this was definitely one of the best games we’ve played this season and I’m very proud of our team.” and highlighted the Fire’s style and chemistry despite not collecting all three points.
Whether such a performance will be the new norm for the Fire remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, continually dropping points against sub-par opposition is not the way to climb above the red line. A much different test awaits the Fire as they enter week eighteen against conference heavy weights NYCFC (Saturday, 7:00 CT, Toyota Park).
The visitors will see Saturday as an opportunity in a much different light. NYCFC could regain the top spot in both the East and the Supporters Shield standings with a win against Chicago if Atlanta loses to Orlando. The fact that they have a match in hand on Tata Martino’s side is extra incentive to punish a Chicago team that just can’t seem to find their feet on a regular basis. Will newcomer Dome Torrent continue to step out from under Patrick Vieira’s shadow, or will Paunovic’s allusion to consistency in performances come to fruition? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
NYCFC Form Guide (All Competitions): W-D-L-W-L
Previous Result: A 2-1 home win over Toronto.
Formation: 3-4-3; Johnson; Ibeagha, Ring, Callens; Tinnerholm, Moralez, Ofori, Sweat; Tajouri-Shradi, Berget, Villa
Strengths: We are faced with another team that could have an entire article written about its strengths. NYCFC is arguably the best team in the league and they do not seem to be slowing down. Let’s see where they might succeed on Saturday.
Diversifying Assets: In a league where there is constant talk about the top half of your roster versus the bottom half of your roster, NYCFC has done an exceptional job of closing the typical gap that exists between the two endpoints of that spectrum. While they have hit the mark with all three of their DPs (David Villa, Maxi Moralez, and Jesus Medina), players like Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jo Inge Berget, and Yangel Herrera are among their leaders in goals and assists as well. Overall, they have ten different goal scorers and ten different assist providers on the season, combining for the league’s third highest goals total.
It isn’t just attacking prowess that highlights NYCFC’s ability to diversify, the additions of Anton Tinnerholm and Ebenezer Ofori have shored up the defensive side of the team through the international window; Sebastien Ibeagha’s addition shows an ability to successfully grow USL players to the next level; and the flourishing of Sean Johnson in New York indicates a knack for resurrecting players’ careers. The result has been the allowance of just twenty goals on the season, but more importantly, reveals an ability to utilize multiple acquisition mechanisms in building a deep squad ready to win. Nelson Rodriguez might secretly be taking notes.
Plug and Play: One of the most difficult times that a club can face is that of uncertainty amidst change. Whether it is a change in ownership, a change in coach, or a period of rebuilding, MLS is especially susceptible to the valleys of transition. However, with City Football Group’s worldwide reach (featuring clubs in Manchester, Melbourne, Yokohama, and Girona, as well as New York) comes an ethos of uniformity which goes a long way in combatting such uncertainty. Everything from training regimens and high-class facilities down to tactics, playing style, and player profiles is regulated in a top down manner. While we can save the “cookie cutter” analogies for other analysts, the fact of the matter is that from a purely business perspective, this has worked phenomenally for City Football Group and its clubs.
The transition of Vieira to Nice seems to be smooth with Dom Torrent boasting an arguably more impressive CV and the potential summer additions of the likes of Yaya Toure can only boost his standing. Coming highly recommended by Pep Guardiola certainly isn’t a bad thing and Torrent’s win over a gritty TFC side in his first match should be a sign of things to come.
Weaknesses: While NYCFC is certain to make the playoffs and will likely make a deep post-season run, there are aspects of this side that can be exploited. Let’s see where they might struggle on Saturday.
No Captain My Captain: While we praised NYCFC’s ability to be effective all over the field, there is no doubt that David Villa is the catalyst for much of what they do going forward. With over a third of his side’s tallies and assists this season, the legendary Spaniard is once again throwing his name in the hat for MVP. At thirty-six years of age you also have to give him credit for his longevity.
However, his age is starting to show with wear and tear on his body increasing this season. NYCFC will be without their star this Saturday due to a knee injury sustained against Toronto. Villa came off in the twenty-eighth minute and although it is likely only a two to three week absence, New York has struggled in matches where Villa is absent (an earlier injury spell this season saw a Villa-less NYCFC draw on the road against Atlanta and New England, and lose in his return against Portland). His absence will certainly be a factor this weekend.
Prediction: It is hard to see NYCFC’s quality not come through in this fixture. The league is quickly developing into a tiered entity in which the parity of years past will no longer be the norm. Chicago 1-3 NYCFC. Katai notches a farewell goal in possibly his last appearance for the club, Berget, Moralez, and Tajouri-Shradi for the visitors.