Oh New York, what happened last season? Patrick Vieira’s side were one of best teams in the league in 2017, playing some of the most mesmerizing soccer in MLS. But once again, they fell short when it came to the playoffs.
Although Columbus deservedly progressed into the Eastern Conference final after a 4-3 aggregate win against NYCFC, City felt last season was a disappointment given how impressive they were in the regular season. Club captain David Villa became the first MLS player ever to hit consecutive 20+ goal seasons, and the defense was actually solid and consistent with the additions of Alexander Callens and Ben Sweat. So can Villa and co. achieve greatness this time around?
Off-Season Grade: A-
There’s only one place to start when grading NYCFC’s offseason moves, and that’s Jack Harrison. The England U21 winger finally earned his move back home to the Premier League after a fantastic second season with City, appearing in every regular season game for the club and scoring 10 goals along the way.
Harrison’s departure will leave a massive hole down the wing in New York’s attack; however, the franchise acted quickly in finding a replacement in the form of Paraguayan winger Jesús Medina. Signed as a young DP from Primera División side Club Libertad, Medina instantly fills a void left by Harrison on the wing due to his ability to play on either side, as well as how similar he is to the Englishman in terms of style of play.
But Medina was just the first of what was to be a slew of new signings for New York. Vieira added Malmö duo Anton Tinnerholm and Jo Inge Berget on free transfers, as well as former France U21 international Cédric Hountondji from Ligue 2 side GFC Ajaccio. NYCFC also traded fan favorite Khiry Shelton for Sporting Kansas City fullback Saad Abdul-Salaam, meaning the right back area went from one of NYCFC’s weakest areas to one of its most stacked.
Key Player: David Villa
David Villa has been one of the best players in MLS history, and the 2016 MVP winner looks set to be one of the most lethal strikers in the league yet again in 2018. The former Barcelona frontman is showing no signs of slowing down following the aforementioned record breaking achievement New York’s #7 achieved last season, and Villa has been in great form in pre-season.
With a massive creative influence added into the squad in the form of Medina, and with Vieira likely to stick with the 4-3-3 formation that has made NYCFC such a lethal team, Villa could well become the first player in MLS history to hit 20+ goals in three consecutive seasons.
Best-Case Scenario: MLS Cup Champions
NYCFC have all that it takes to win MLS Cup, but there’s just one small problem; Toronto FC, arguably the best MLS team of all time, are in the same conference as New York, meaning that to win MLS Cup you need to beat Sebastian Giovinco and company. That is no easy task.
Vieira’s side were absolutely demolished by Toronto in the 2016 playoffs when City lost 7-0 on aggregate to the Canadian side, including a 5-0 loss at Yankee Stadium, so revenge will still be on the mind for both manager and players. The question is can NYCFC bury their playoff demons in the past and actually earn some silverware?
Bold Prediction: City go big in the summer transfer window
MLS has transformed massively in the past few years in terms of player recruitment. For a time, signing ageing players from Europe was the IN thing to do, but now the stance has changed to franchises signing young players just starting their careers from all regions of the globe. This year, the hip continent for player recruitment is South America. But what if a club was to sign a player, playing in Europe, in his prime?
That has always been the dream for Don Garber. His goal is for MLS to be a league that can compete for the worlds best players in their prime, and NYCFC could well be the team that kick-starts this movement. The question is who? James Rodriguez, Samir Nasri, and Yaya Toure have all been linked with moves to America in the past few months, but the build up of the summer transfer window could see younger, more lucrative names be added to the list, and it would not surprise me if New York attempt to add a world class name to their roster.