I’ll be perfectly honest…predicting what we’ll see from NYCFC this year is difficult, to say the least. Their results, their standings…the facts tell one story, perception could very well tell another.
Of last year’s starting XI for NYCFC in the East River Derby, seven are still with the team, ten of the match’s eighteen still on the roster.
New faces on the squad that weren’t available last year. Frank Lampard (with a much talked abou 2015), Andrea Pirlo. New signings like Federico Bravo, Ronald Matarrita, and Frederic Brillant. And a much-improved regular season for the blue team.
At the time of the derby in 2015, NYCFC had a 3-5-7 record that featured an 11-game winless streak in the middle, and only three matches overall where they scored more than a goal.
In comparison, the 2016 side is 4-6-5, good enough for fourth place in the East, and have managed to score more than a goal per match eight times, despite a -7 goal differential (we’ll get to this part a little later).
Head coach Patrick Vieira has clearly favored a 4-3-3 formation, employing it 12 times in their first 15 matches.
With Josh Saunders in net for all MLS matches, NYCFC has generally stuck with a back line of Mattarita, Jason Hernandez, Brillant, and RJ Allen. With Mattarrita’s call-up to the Costa Rican MNT for Copa America Centenario, the last two matches have seen Allen switch over to the left side with Ethan White on the opposite side. With Costa Rica already eliminated, Matarrita will be present, but given time off to rest. In addition, Empire of Soccer also reported that Vieira spent most of his time on Monday coaching a backline of Shannon Gomez, White, Jefferson Mena, and Diego Martinez with last year’s derby goalkeeper Eirik Johansen back in goal.
The midfield has seen some consistency with Pirlo on the left and Mix Diskerud on the right in four of their last five matches. Defensive midfield duties had typically fallen to Bravo, who started in the role for six of the seven games prior to May 29th until an injury in training sidelined him. He’s expected to miss this match and Andoni Iraola has been slotted in for the last two matches.
Six of the last eight matches have seen David Villa at the #9 with Tommy McNamara to his left. While Khiry Shelton seems to be the preferred choice for the right side, Jack Harrison, a former target for the Cosmos, got the start in their last game against Real Salt Lake.
And let’s not forget Kwadwo Poku who struck twice in last year’s match-up between green and blue. He’s still on the bench somewhere.
So what can Cosmos fans expect?
That’s where perception comes in.
Last year, an arguably watered-down NYCFC side took the pitch. Despite a two-goal lead (equalized in the 90th) and a penalty kick in extra time (banged off the crossbar), City fell in penalty kicks at the end. This was just one of many, many bumps that season that saw the aforementioned immediate exit from the Open Cup, and an eighth place finish in their conference, tied for most losses and most goals surrendered with no playoffs and a dismissed coach by season’s end.
It’s clear they didn’t prioritize the Cup last year, but could a few factors change that?
Sitting in fourth in the conference, will they choose to make the regular season, which resumes three days later, the priority? Will they have the perception that this is more important? Will they again rest players for this purpose? That back line and goalkeeper sure sound like it.
Will hosting the match (at Fordham University’s Coffey Field} make this more of a priority for them? Is this their perception?
Or will an overall 0-1-4 performance against New York teams (the Open Cup match against the Cosmos counts as a draw as it was decided by PKs) create a sense of need for a win and for validation against other teams in the Metro area, ESPECIALLY in light of the Red Bull Wedding, a 7-0 loss in Yankee Stadium to the red team?
Prepare for the unknown and make sure to read our interview with Blue City Radio for more insight on the team.