The results aren’t painting a pretty picture for New York City FC ahead of the biggest match in franchise history.
NYCFC haven’t won since the middle of March. They’ve lost five of their last seven, with measly draws picked up against Colorado and Philadelphia. During that stretch, the team has scored a measly three goals. They’ve led for a total of thirty minutes.
The worry for NYCFC here is that with all of the corporate misdirection and broken promises of the last year and a half, if the team keeps losing, interest might fade, and things might get ugly.
Manager Jason Kreis, NYCFC’s biggest asset, has spoken over the last week about how the process of turning this team into a winner has been much harder than he expected.
Kreis doesn’t have much experience with losing. He missed the playoffs in his first year as a head coach, and then qualified without a hitch for the next six years – making two MLS Cups in the process.
Kreis has even less experience with the kind of slide his new team is currently trying to endure. Kreis’ Real Salt Lake teams were extremely consistent, as much in process and thought than results.
The truth is that NYCFC’s slow start was entirely foreseeable, and what ails the team on the field entirely curable. Kreis made the right call in jumping ship from a stable, comfortable, successful situation when he did – NYCFC is in a better position today than Salt Lake is with new manager Jeff Cassar.
New York City is playing good football. In the last few weeks, they’ve figured out their high press, and, especially when both Ned Gravaboy and Mix Diskerud are in the lineup, are moving the ball with confidence and assuredness.
If possession is the hallmark of a Kreis team, progress is clear. New York easily out-possessed and dictated games against both Portland and Seattle, the last two matches that the team has played with eleven men.
NYCFC doesn’t have the problem that plagues the vast majority of MLS’ non-playoff teams: The have a good idea of what they’re trying to do each time they take the field. They know how they want to play.
Problem is, NYCFC is bringing slingshots to machete fights. Right now, New York is one of the least talented teams in MLS.
All the good coaching in the world can’t win games without good players to back it up. NYCFC’s current lineup is mostly made of players who couldn’t get on the field in MLS last year glued together with rookies and aged imports.
Any team that rates Jed Brovsky, Chris Wingert, Mehdi Ballouchy, and Josh Saunders as key starters is going to struggle. Obviously.
It hasn’t helped that David Villa has been hurt. NYCFC’s buildup play is solid, their finishing in Villa’s absence, horrendous. It also hasn’t helped that a franchise that promised three designated players only has one on hand for the first half of the season, and only two on the books at all.
This team needs all the help it can get. Didier Drogba? Bring him on. Even Ashley Cole, a long shot considering he’d have to take a non-DP deal, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The biggest defeat that NYCFC suffered was in the offseason, when Orlando City aggressively stocked their roster with proven MLS starters – Aurelien Collin, Donovan Ricketts, Tally Hall, Amobi Okugo, and even Brek Shea – to go along with young players with high potential and an international star like Kaka.
One look at NYCFC’s roster tells you that this team is going to have a hard time winning games. They’re extremely undermanned. The Frank Lampard loan extension at Manchester City has been incredibly costly. So was not closing the deal for Xavi last year.
Kreis is the best coach in the league to start over with. Maybe the best coach period. Only Bruce Arena is in his league, and the two have different strengths.
All things told – and NYCFC’s front office since hiring Kreis away from RSL in the fall of 2013 has been a total horror show – the franchise isn’t in a bad place.
The team is averaging around 28,000 fans per game at Yankee Stadium, which is good for third in the league in attendance. The atmosphere at each home game is getting better, and the announcement this week that the club is opening up the upper deck for the June clash with the Red Bulls is cause for further encouragement.
The team has the third most season-ticket holders in the league as well, and broke the league record for merchandise sales at their home opener against the New England Revolution.
The promise that MLS saw when it rushed NYCFC onto the field this year with absolutely zero assurance that they’ll be playing in their own stadium in the next 10 years is clear.
NYCFC will improve. The more time Kreis gets to implement his vision, the better. To make the playoffs – and that is an entirely achievable goal in an Eastern Conference that doesn’t have a clear sixth playoff team – this team will need to be aggressive in the summer.
They need to sign a third designated player, and they need to be active in pursuing talent within MLS. A center-back, a full-back, another forward, and Lampard’s arrival are all more needs than wants.
This team dug a hole for themselves in the offseason. Now, they have to dig out of it. But the long-term future remains bright. Ahead of the first New York derby this weekend at Red Bull Arena, NYCFC is still one of MLS’ best bets for major success.