NYCFC are notorious for being on the wrong end of dominating results in knockout tournaments, but have been relatively high up in the standings since 2016. The US Open Cup is a tournament that NYCFC fans have never taken seriously because of how the team has performed over the last four season. Enter in the Round of 32, exit in the Round of 32 each season since 2015.
With Atlanta and the Red Bulls hands down the best in the East, it's really the battle for the best of the rest which I personally see as NYCFC versus Columbus Crew. So my expectation for a potential Supporters Shield push is low. Playoffs? Well when you have to compete with Atlanta and the Red Bulls and Columbus, a team capable of upsets, I just don't see NYCFC pushing past the Eastern Conference Semifinals for yet another season.
The US Open Cup is where it's at. NYCFC will be more than likely be drawn against the Red Bulls again, as the draw is based upon regional rivals. The Red Bulls have knocked NYCFC out of the competition the last two seasons and have notoriously been able to counter NYCFCs style, but the only way NYCFC can win is by parking the bus, avoid the high press and force a team not known for possession and who play with a high line and force them to keep possession and hit them on the break. NYCFC have fourteen Americans, while Matarrita, Chanot, and Ring to name a few have their green cards, qualifying them as domestic players. NYCFC can play almost a full strength XI with the better foreign players on the bench against honestly, the Red Bulls USL team. If NYCFC somehow advance, our "regional rivals" are DC, Philadelphia, and the Revolution, meaning, NYCFC could play at least one of those teams. All three are beatable, but the Revs have been able to get more good results against NYCFC than the others, while NYCFC have only one away win against DC all time. Assuming the Hudson River Derby occurs in the 4th Round, and NYCFC can knock the Red Bulls, there's no reason why they can't reach potentially the Quarterfinal.
With the amount of domestic players on the roster now and the Americans coming in this offseason, I'd assume NYCFC will seek to put up more of a fight in the US Open Cup. With no real proof that NYCFC will push into the 60 point range, or even get to 55 or so points, with little hope of pushing past the Eastern Conference Semifinals, NYCFC need to put a priority on the US Open Cup. If/when NYCFC get knocked out of the Cup, our season is over.
With two games of preseason down and both games against successful Scandinavian Clubs, NYCFC have shown promising signs. Despite not beating Copenhagen or AIK respectively, I saw lots of good signs, and was impressed by many individual performances. Here are four players who impressed me so far.
Alex Mitrita-The new Designated Player is not only NYCFCs record signing, but one of the most expensive incoming players in MLS history, to add on that he's the first DP signing after David Villa. Coming from Craiova of the Romanian Liga I, Mitrita was already in midseason form and had 12 goals and 4 assists in 16 appearances, and has 22 goals in his last 45 appearances dating back to last season. Not bad for a midfielder. In his first game for NYCFC, Mitrita impressed with a banging strike into the top corner of the goal only minutes into the second half, but also many chances created by the 23 year old. A very good and comfortable performance for a guy who only joined with the team a few days earlier.
Tony Rocha-This is a guy who I was rather concerned about when he signed from Orlando. An American defensive mid who barely played for Orlando, a team who've gotten worse by the season. Despite my doubt, Rocha showed fantastic versatility and energy as he showed he can cover for teammates in midfield as well as show great confidence and energy as a fullback. He's played very well. So far, he looks to be an upgrade on some of the depth players last season.
Luis Barraza-The first round draft pick that confused everyone, Barraza is now the fourth goal keeper under contract with NYCFC right now. Signing for the team before preseason even began, I was really concerned about the objective of the team, but that second half performance against Barraza was great. Very confident coming off his line and very comfortable with the ball at his feet, Barraza also had very good reactions.
Brad Stuver- My first impressions of Stuver were bad. Conceding eight goals in three appearances last season, showing a very nervous goalkeeper. His first half performance against Copenhagen showed a very different goalkeeper. He actually looked comfortable and had much better reactions. A somewhat MLS experienced goalkeeper, I'd be interested in how he'll perform for the rest of preseason, and probably in the U.S. Open Cup.
Joe Scally-The 16 year old right back signed as a home grown player last season and came on as a substitute for David Villa and played as a striker in the Open Cup loss to the Red Bulls last season and that was my only impression. In his two preseason games, he's shown his maturity on both sides of the ball. Scally was defensively calm and put a couple of dangerous crosses into the box. Learning from a guy like Tinnerholm, a man who has championship winning experience and has been super productive, scoring 4 goals and notched 6 assists in 32 appearances in 2018, and in the last two seasons with NYCFC and Malmo has 7 goals and 9 assists, I hope Scally can learn from a guy like that. So far, there are promising signs for one of many young Americans at NYCFC.
NYCFC took on the second most successful Danish team in FC Copenhagen this morning in a friendly. It was the first look at the team in the "Post Villa Era", and given it's only preseason, it wasn't the best performance, but there are some takeaways.
FC Copenhagen played very well in the first half, forcing NYCFC, and mainly Alex Callens into many mistakes. Senegalese striker Dame N'Doye had a few really good chances, but couldn't convert them. A more eventful second half saw a few tense moments, including Ismael Tajouri-Shradi getting wacked in the face by a Copenhagen midfielder, Tinnerholm getting shoved by the Copenhagen left back, and Jesus Medina having an exchange of words with one of Copenhagen's center backs. Copenhagen finished NYCFC within two minutes. Ben Sweat gave away a free kick in the 76th minute, and a minute later when Robert Skov cannons the ball into the near post. Only two minutes later, Andreas Bjelland scored a banging volley from a corner kick. Overall, Copenhagen got NYCFC uncomfortable in the first half and finished their chances in the second.
I've mentioned this a few times, but because it's the first game of preseason and a lot of these guys haven't played since early November, I'm not surprised by the performance. When the season hits, I think the team will probably have a better defensive record, especially if Chanot gets more playtime. The team was organized as a defensive unit and utilized the offside trap really well. I think as a defensive unit, they could do better putting pressure on the opponent. There is great depth in almost every position, but the big issue is the team doesn't have a striker/goal scorer. Maxi, Tajouri-Shradi, and Lewis can get in on the act, but two more signings who can get goals wouldn't hurt. Overall, I'm not too concerned after watching that.
Report: According to multiple reports coming out of Romania and the U.S. NYCFC have reached an agreement for a Designated player contract. NYCFC will reportedly be paying 7.5-8.5million dollars to complete the signing of the Romanian striker who will most likely be the replacement for David Villa. The 23-year-old Romanian striker currently has 18 goals in 32 appearances this season for Universitatea Craiova in the first division Romanian league & 6 appearances with the Romanian international team. He will be one of the most expensive players to ever join MLS.
Contract: Alexandru Mitrita of Universitea Craiova is apparently set to sign for NYCFC. As of today, February 1st, 2019, Mitrita is apparently in Manchester finalizing a deal with NYCFC that will cost up to 8.5 million dollars with 20% future add ons which could raise his stock to almost 10 million dollars, making him one of the most expensive players in Romanian soccer and MLS history. Also, he would be the second most expensive player on the team after Maxi, with Mitrita worth 1 million dollars for four years. This 100% means that he has to perform from the get go in front of an increasingly impatient fanbase. From what it sounds like, he is the best player in the Romanian first division, probably a stretch, but kind of like Pulisic with the United States. Mitrita is a winger/attack mid and has scored 22 goals in 45 appearances since signing for his current club a year and a half ago.
The Player: With little information about him, I'm reluctant that he's worth the money NYCFC are supposedly willing to spend. Especially since the Clubs first three Designated Players all came on free transfers and only one of them performed, I'm unsure about a Romanian guy who couldn't make the cut for Pescara in Italy could suddenly reach DP quality in MLS. Looking at his highlights, he might make a semi smooth transition into MLS. He's aggressive and is fully capable at taking on defenders and has a lethal right foot. Mostly coming off the left wing, I wouldn't be surprised if Mitrita played on the left, Tajouri-Shradi as the center forward and Medina on the right wing, but, we could see Medina drop back and there could be some variation of a 4-4-2 with a couple of playmakers in midfield.
Major League Soccer: Let's be totally honest about MLS though, the defending and goalkeeping isn't always good. NYCFC have made a lot of mistakes in their short history and have had bad defensive performances a lot, but still have the fourth best defensive record over the last two seasons. MLS does lack a certain intensity, only a handful of teams maintain good intensity in this league. Like I said, the defending and goalkeeping in this league isn't great and an extremely aggressive player like Mitrita could succeed. I'm honestly serious when I say he reminds me of Sebastian Giovinco, and at the raw age of 23, Mitrita could be the next good player.
Overall: I personally do not think he is worth the amount of money being offered, especially from a team that has been fairly reluctant to spend transfer fees, then you go out and potentially spend potentially up to 10 million dollars worth of money on an unknown. That kind of money obviously means he will be a Designated Player (DP). I think you should sign him on a lower transfer fee and a lower salary, and if he impresses in that first season, maybe season and a half, then you could boost him to the 1 million dollar salary. Maybe it's just me, but don't rush it with the next DP. I do think he'd ultimately do well in MLS though.
Report: NYC FC have waived French Defender Cedric Hountondji. The 25-year-old just made one appearance for New York in 2018. Thoughts?!
NYCFC have been linked with various players and have signed a few guys throughout January, and a specific striker is rumored to be homesick. Despite a week left of the first month of 2019 to go, here is a recap of all rumors/reports and done deals this month.
Kevin Quevedo: This promising Peruvian youngster has been linked with a move to NYCFC since the end of last summer, but the player himself has finally played down the claims recently, committed to stay in Peru. Kevin Quevedo plays for Alianza Lima of Peru, and is a quick, versatile, and energetic forward who can play on either wing. With what NYCFC have right now in the front line, Quevedo wouldn't be bad, but the Peruvian will be staying in Peru for the foreseeable future.
Gary Mackay-Steven: A current forward for Aberdeen, Mackay-Steven is very similar to Quevedo in style. Quick, confident dribbler, and versatile. What makes this report interesting is that Sky Sports recently broke the news after an interview with Aberdeen coach Derek McInnis that NYCFC has approached the Club to speak with Mackay-Stevens's representatives. The Scottish wingers contract ends this summer, and has admitted he has spoken to NYCFC coach Domenec Torrent. He'd make a good signing for New York City, and would be a great addition to the front line.
Jo Inge Berget: This is an outgoing rumor for sure, but the injury prone and underperforming striker Jo Inge Berget is reportedly homesick. Reports suggest that Rosenborg of Norway and former Club Malmo in Sweden are interested in Berget. If you let him go, that's $800,000 yearly salary freed up, and with Villa's $5 million yearly salary freed up, this could free us up to really look at providing potential upgrades in the roster. I'll definitely give Berget another season at least, but if he has another year of mostly unimpressive performances and a good chunk of injuries, he has to be out the door.
Alexandru Mitrita: Finally, this is a weird one. NYCFC ACTUALLY WANT TO SPEND MONEY SIGNING A PLAYER. Romanian international, Alexandru Mitrita has been bang in form over the last 18 months. He currently plies his trade with Universitatea Craiova in Romania's top flight, and over the last two years he's scored 24 goals in 47 league appearances. This season, he has 13 goals in 16 appearances, and leads the Romanian league in goals. A very similar style to the first two players, I'd be interested in Mitrita. The Romanian international can play on either wing, or as an attacking midfielder (would be interesting to see him as a false 9). Craiova are willing to sell him for $6.5 million which smells like a DP Signing for most MLS teams, would NYCFC sign him? To CFG, that kind of money is absolutely nothing compared to the signings of Mahrez, De Bruyne, Mendy, etc. in Manchester. I'd like to see that money be spent, but who knows the real quality between MLS and Romania's top division.
Justin Haak: Our first Home Grown Player from the five boroughs, Justin Haak is the third ever signing after James Sands (signed in 2017) and Joe Scally (signed in 2018). Haak is a center midfielder who can play as a holding midfielder and as a box to box player. Haak is one of the first ever players to be in NYCFCs academy, and has been here for I believe for the full four seasons up until now. Haak knows the expectations, the style, and the players, but needs to be ready to compete in the big time. Best of luck, and hopefully you can be here for a while.
Keaton Parks (loan): Keaton Parks has recently signed from Benfica on a one year loan deal. His highlights show a player who is very comfortable on the ball and can find a pass. He'll be a great acquisition for the team for the upcoming season. Great experience for him and hopefully he can have a great year with NYC.
Ofori (loan): Ebenezer re-signs with NYCFC on yet another loan deal from VFB Stuttgart, but this time the loan deal has the option to buy. Ofori is reliable depth, will hold his position, but isn't as aggressive as Ring, who is the most probably depth to. It's great to have another familiar face with the team, and like Haak, Ofori knows the tradition of this young Club, he knows the expectation, and hopefully he can continue where he left off from in 2018.
There has been quite a negativity around NYCFC this offseason. The way 2018 ended after a fantastic start, losing both Villa, the Club President, Patrick Vieira, and Herrera in the same year, limited transfer rumors, mostly poor signings recently, limited spending on improving the roster, not much news on the preseason schedule, and still no stadium news makes me worry about the plan at NYCFC. Domenec Torrent is really in the hot seat, and if form continues into 2019, I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't see the NYC dugout in 2020. Here are a few things I feel he needs to emphasize going into the Clubs fifth season. FYI, I will not be including any transfer business.
One thing that needs to be emphasized is home form. NYCFC have won 22 of their last 34 home games and have only lost 3 Regular Season games at home. Being able to maintain good home form is massive, especially with the new Playoff format, home field advantage is massive. Torrent needs to emphasize good home form and hopefully the team can make it increasingly difficult for the visitors to Yankee Stadium.
Secondly, is NYCFC getting off to a good start. NYC have a seemingly comfortable Spring schedule. Teams that they should be getting results against are Orlando, Chicago, Montreal, and DC (at home), each of these teams NYC play twice by the end of May. The potentially difficult games will include Minnesota's home opener, LAFC at home, LA Galaxy and Toronto away. In total, those are 12 games by May 31st, so if NYCFC can win at least half those games, including maintaining a home unbeaten streak in that time, I think it'll be good.
Leadership in the locker room is crucial. There have been a few suggestions on who should be the next captain, but there's a good amount of experience and youth in this team. In goal, NYC have two MLS experienced goalies in Sean Johnson and Brad Stuver, defense Alex Callens has been a mainstay in the lineup, Chanot and Matarrita have been with the Club since 2016, Tinnerholm has Champions League experience, while Scally, Ibeagha, and Sweat are all domestic players with different levels of experience. Midfield Alex Ring is an absolute beast and has to be a mentor to James Sands, Tony Rocha does bring a certain level of MLS/USL experience, while Danny Bedoya is a local guy who probably has a grudge on his shoulder about not playing last season. Maxi Moralez has experience in both Europe and South America, and was by far NYCFCs best player in 2018, so if Maxi and Ring can act as leaders for the rest of the midfield, that would be great. The front line has little experience, Medina, Castellanos, and Lewis are all 21, Tajouri-Shradi has some level of experience with Austria Wien who are a top team in Austria. Despite not being necessarily a great player when it comes to the stats, Jo Inge Berget is a title winner with Malmo and Molde, and limited experience with Celtic. As long as players like Ring, Johnson, Matarrita, Chanot, etc., act as leaders/motivators and good influences to the younger players, we definitely have a team for the future.
Summer results are important, and NYC are usually good in the summer, with a decline usually hitting in the final two months. Specifically in July and August, NYC have to play the Red Bulls, Seattle, Kansas City, Columbus, and Portland at home, and the Red Bulls, Cincinnati, and Atlanta away. Getting results in that span is crucial, and eight out of eleven games in that span are against teams who will definitely be playoff teams. Proving you can get results against these teams, which NYC have been able to prove at points in recent seasons is crucial. Especially when it comes down to momentum, getting results against multiple teams who have been competing for titles in such a short amount of time will be a massive boost for a team who have made it clear they want to win some titles themselves.
Overall, it's just building momentum and making life difficult for your opponents which NYCFC have proven at certain points in recent seasons. Ideally, I'd love to see NYCFC push for 60+ points and put together a deep run in the Playoffs and/or the US Open Cup, but as of now without a good striker, I see NYC finishing in the low 50s for points at best and hopefully something in either Cup Competitions as a successful season.
NYCFC have proven to have a surprisingly good record without David Villa who missed 20 games over his four years with the Club. The Spaniard was the face of NYCFC scoring 80 goals in 124 appearances, but New York City were fine without Villa, winning 11 of the 20 games he missed, including a 5-1 win over Colorado Rapids in 2016, and a 4-0 win over Real Salt Lake in 2018. David missed 12 games in 2018, in that time, the Club won 7 games, tied 2, and lost 3. Here are players who will shine without David Villa.
Jo Inge Berget- Despite rumors circulating that he is unhappy in New York and is looking for a return to Europe, Berget actually played better without David Villa. Berget scored four goals and got three assists last season, and with David Villa out of the team, Berget scored four goals and got two assists. It seemed Torrent figured out Berget with playing the long ball and using Bergets hold up play was a key factor to the Vikings limited success. If Berget were to stay, don't be surprised if he came off the bench in losing positions to try and help win games.
Jesus Medina- A Designated Player who was incredibly inconsistent in 2018, Jesus Medina has the making of a playmaker and potentially the long term replacement for Maxi Moralez. The Paraguayan forward scored six goals and had seven assists in 2018, and was shining in NYCFCs early unbeaten run in which David Villa missed four games in that span. Medina also shined in the July scoring four goals and got two assists over the seven games that Villa had missed. An injury in August and inconsistencies in the lineup did halt his good form, but there's a good season ahead. A second season in New York, knowing what's expected from him, and now hopefully comfortable in the area, don't be surprised if the playmaker gets into double figures for assists.
Jonathan Lewis- A clearly talented winger who has made 25 appearances in his previous two seasons, Jonathan Lewis is a talented player who has had an impact. Who can forget that 94th minute winner against New England? Or the 85th minute game winning assist for Maxi Moralez against the Red Bulls? In limited action, Lewis impressed former Columbus Crew and new USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter enough to get a call up to the senior national team for a training camp. Additionally, Jonathan Lewis has a gotten a lot of attention from the NYCFC media team at the training camp, and with Villa gone, we could see some movement in the front line with our wingers which could be a positive for the young player. Quick and instinctive, Lewis needs a big year, and he could play as an auxiliary striker for the first half of the season, which could only be a good thing for him and NYCFC.
The Defense- I know this is kind of cheating, but NYCFC were more defensive minded without Villa in 2018. NYC kept 10 shutouts in 2018, 6 in 12 games without Villa, while only 4 shutouts in 22 games with Villa. As long as the defense has better focus and Sean Johnson gets more of a challenge from the back up goalies, I wouldn't be surprised in NYCFC get a bit more defensive, especially against teams like Atlanta and the Red Bulls.
Rumor: According to multiple reports coming out of the UK. 28-year-old Scottish winger, Gary Mackay-Steven could potentially be joining NYCFC for the upcoming 2019 season. The Scottish winger currently plays for Aberdeen after recently playing for Celtic from 2015-2017. He has 2 appearances with the Scottish national team.