By Luis Vazquez
Patrick Vieira feels the possibilities. He stated as much with his statement that this NYCFC team is better, deeper and versatile than last year’s playoff squad. Coming off a comeback draw versus Emelec and holding their own in the Tuscon Cup, Vieira likes what he sees. “
We have a really good group of players who all want to play, who all work really hard.”In year three of this MLS franchise we decided to take a closer look at the roster and see why the second-year head coach is so optimistic.
NYCFC is best in the attack. They have a mix of championship veterans and very able youngsters challenging to move into the starting eleven. We start with the MLS MVP David Villa. He is a fit 35, hungry to exceed last season’s accomplishments and has the supporting cast to aid him in this endeavor. He has a couple of impressive goals in the pre-season already and looks ready to do damage. Jack Harrison will partner with Villa on top or in midfield supporting the strikers.
This revelation come sensation wants to prove 2016 was no fluke. If he is not up to the task there are youngsters who want the big minutes. “They have increased the level of play,” Harrison said, “They’ve all been good for us and it can only get better going forward.”
Jonathan Lewis is already stating his case coming off an impressive performance in the CONCACAF Under-20’s with a goal and assist in a 4-1 rout of St. Kitts and Nevis. Sean Okoli, the USL MVP and David Stertzer also raised eyebrows with the equalizing goals against Emelec in Ecuador which allowed NYCFC to leave with an unlikely 2-2 draw. The Costa Rican viper Rodney Wallace, who gave the USMNT fits in the World Cup qualifiers will be a nice addition.
This area has some promise suddenly with the addition of Argentine International Maxi Moralez, whose total game has already brought a fluidity to the attack NYCFC has lacked. Alex Ring, the Finnish train that can harrassed the enemy and set up counterattacks showed all that and a nasty predisposition in the final pre-season win over Sporting Kansas City.
“I didn’t come here for second place,” Ring said. James Sands, 16, is unexplainable, playing way above his station and has forced NYCFC to ask the hard question. Do we play him up here? That soon became a moot point as he was just named to the 26-player roster for U-17 Frendlies. Panama’s Miguel Camargo will bring bench strength.
Andrea Pirlo is not fast but his playmaking skills are still in evidence and with these capable youngsters taking up the brunt of the work, Pirlo can be free to just be a key cog in the machine. Mix Diskerud appears to have no role.
The back four has a strong international flavor and if these men can gell into a unit, NYCFC will be pleasantly surprised. In the center of the line Luxembourgian-French International Maxine Chanot will, along with Peruvian Alexander Callens, provide a solid wall of resistance.
They will be protected on the flanks by R.J Allen and Costa Rican Ronald Mattarrita to tackle the speedy wingers. Yangel Herrera, from Venezuela and Manchester City youth team will be a versatile addition in central defense or as a defensive midfielder when used.
After a shaky game down in Ecuador, Sean Johnson showed why NYCFC pryed him from Chicago to replace Josh Saunders with a key penalty save against Sporting Kansas City and another key save later on to keep his scoresheet clean. The raves about his athletic skills has placed him at the top at this position. The Blues have depth here with Eirik Johansen from Norway who enjoys the battles and the friendships that are forged here.
“It’s been really good working with Sean-he’s a really good guy and Patrick wants competition for places.”
Competition has been the theme for this season. Its why NYCFC should be better in 2017. And how do you improve on a playoff berth? You challenge for the MLS Cup, that’s what.