Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Twitter: @NYCFCist - managed by Sam 10/1/220
Heading into the final weeks of what has been a season fit for the madness that is 2020, NYCFC finds itself coming out on top after a roller-coaster stretch of games. After a rocky start to the season, and lackluster performance in the MLS is Back Tournament, the Boys in Blue have only lost 1 of their last 8 matches. They now sit at 6th place and are tied in points with crosstown rivals, the New York Red Bulls While the past month of strong performances from NYCFC has largely given Cityzens cause for hope, the prolonged absence of Maxi Moralez, the loss of Heber for the season, and Alex Ring playing outside his natural position, has raised some questions. The biggest of which is how far can this squad actually go considering the players, Manager Ronny Deila, NYCFC Execs, and fans alike have stated that success this season is defined by the club attaining its first piece of silverware. To be fair, these expectations were largely set pre-pandemic when NYCFC was expecting to compete for at least three opportunities for silverware this season: CONCACAF Champions League, US Open Cup and MLS Cup. Unfortunately, the CONCACAF Champions League has been postponed indefinitely and the US Open has been cancelled. The MLS is Back Tournament offered a renewed chance for NYCFC to win a trophy, but unfortunately the Cityzens fell short in a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers in the quarter finals. With the remaining MLS schedule now released, here’s a quick look at what the road ahead looks like for NYCFC in 3 Stages: Stage I: Three Games to FITFO (Figure It The F Out) Opponents: Inter Miami (10/3 @ 8PM EST), DC United (10/6 @ 7PM EST), NE Revolution (10/11 @ 7PM EST) Despite going unbeaten for much of September, without Heber, and with no return for Maxi in sight, Ronny Deila and the squad have some MAJOR questions to address. This stage includes matchups against two teams (Inter Miami & DC United) that are below the playoff line, and one whose manager has professed that NYCFC is the best team they have played all season, which should afford Deila the opportunity to do just that. Saturday’s match against FC Cincinnati provided some insight into how Deila may plan to address the squad’s scoring woes moving forward. Despite being “forced”* to start Valentin “Taty” Castellanos at striker, Deila made his intentions for the attack clear by electing to play Alexandru Mitrita in the starting squad. However, Mitri wasn’t at his typical left-wing position, which is currently being occupied by NYCFC captain Alex Ring. Rather, Deila opted to play him centrally at #10. And boy, did it pay off QUICK.
Mitri managed to get on the board in 31 seconds! 31! His lightning-fast strike set a new team record for fastest goal, previously set by Taty when he scored in 39 sec from kickoff against FC Dallas on last September. With Maxi out indefinitely, Mitri should be able to offer the creativity and scoring threat NYCFC needs at #10. Assuming he can sustain his hunger for goals and eagerness to help the team on both ends of the field, he should at a minimum, adequately fill that role and maybe remind the Pigeon faithful why former NYCFC manager, Domé Torrent, referred to him as “The Special One”. In addition to Mitri, Ismael “Isi” Tajouri-Shradi returned to the starting XI for the first time since returning from injury on August 27th. Those who have watched Isi since he arrived to New York in 2018 know #HardBodyShradi has the creativity and dynamism to be a scoring threat every time he steps on the pitch. His return will be key to NYCFC’s success moving forward, and these 3 games afford him the opportunity to get in form after quite some time off. * “Forced” is in quotes because I believe Taty Castellanos is a viable starter in MLS and should be able to fill Heber’s shoes. Stage II: Prove Your Worth Opponents: Orlando City SC (10/14 @ 7:30PM EST), Columbus Crew SC (10/18 @ 6PM EST), Impact Montreal (10/24 @ 7:30PM EST) Assuming Stage I goes according to plan and they manage to FITFO, NYCFC should be heading into Stage II having found their scoring groove, filled with hopes of Maxi’s return, and a determination to prove what they’re worth. It’s critical for Deila and company to have found answers at this point, given these games arguably make up the toughest stretch of the season so far. Orlando City finds itself in the midst of its best season ever. Led by new manager Oscar Pareja, and bolstered by key players including Portuguese legend Nani, and Wisco Badger Alum Chris Mueller, Orlando has become one of the teams to beat in the East. NYCFC’s last matchup against the Lions did not go well, to say the least, as the Cityzens fell 3-1 to Orlando during the MLS is Back Tournament. This time around, victory feels like a necessity. None appreciate this more than the squad and fans who understand the history of these clubs, the nature of their relationship, and the potential impact of this match on each club’s final standing as both jostle for top spots in the conference. Columbus Crew has been rolling all year and remain the #1 seed in the East, as well as Supporter’s Shield frontrunners. Last time NYCFC met the Crew out on the pitch, Crew manager Caleb Porter seemed to show his lack of respect for the Pigeons by sending out a B-Squad of a starting XI. NYCFC managed to make him regret that decision, with the match ending in a 1-0 result for NYCFC; however, the true test of the squad’s current form will come against Porter’s real starting XI this time around. Finally, NYCFC will face Impact Montreal, who has had a roller-coaster season themselves with their newly appointed manager, Thierry Henry, at the helm. Despite their struggle to find consistency, the Impact has still managed to be dangerous in the most unlikely of moments, and could prove to be a worthy opponent for NYCFC if it happens to be an “on” day for Henry’s squad. At the end of this stretch, we will know if NYCFC truly means business, if Deila determines long term answers for the squad’s scoring woes, and if they can compete in earnest for the MLS Cup this year. Stage III: Finish Strong Opponents: Toronto FC (10/28 @ 7:30PM EST), New York Red Bulls (11/1 @ TBD), Chicago Fire FC (11/8 @ 7:30PM EST) To wrap up the season, NYCFC will face two of it’s biggest rivals, including its arch rival the NJ Energy Drinks from across the river. These are three very important matches against Eastern Conference foes that offer the perfect final tests heading into the MLS Playoffs. NYCFC’s matchup with Toronto FC on 10/28 will mark the fourth time these clubs have faced off in 2020. This is the most of any NYCFC opponent. It feels as if MLS schedulers want to torture NYCFC and its fanbase knowing Toronto constantly proves to be a thorn in their side. In 2020, Toronto FC leads the head-to-head matchup 2-1 after NYCFC fell to the Reds just last week. The Reds managed to pull off the 1-0 victory over NYCFC after a questionable handball call from referee Joe Dickerson leading to this penalty from Pozuelo. Bad refereeing aside, NYCFC had plenty of opportunity to make the penalty erroneous by this point in the game and need to approach this next matchup as another opportunity to exact revenge on the club that so often seems to edge past the Boys in Blue. NYCFC and New York Red Bulls are set to face off for only the second time this season, despite sharing a stadium for the entirety of the MLS restart. The first derby was much like those preceding it: hard fought, gritty and filled with questionable refereeing. Though it was a close match, things went Red Bulls’ way in the first leg, resulting in a 1-0 scoreline. However, since they last faced their rivals on the pitch, NYCFC seems to have found their groove and are fielding an unquestionably more talented roster. Therefore, there’s little doubt the Cityzens will show everyone that New York is BLUE in this next edition of the Hudson River Derby. For NYCFC’s final match of the regular season, the freshly rebranded Chicago Fire FC is a squad on the rise, whose trajectory is hard to predict, but they could easily present a formidable challenge if NYCFC find themselves on the cusp of earning a playoff spot on decision day. Nevertheless, I am confident that by the end of the season the Cityzens will find themselves comfortably above the playoff line, and decision day will ultimately be more consequential for determining who we play in the opening round of the MLS Playoffs.