New York — After what was an embarrassing end to a great season, a bitter taste lingered on the tongues of all NYCFC fans across the United States. This distaste unfortunately covered what was in actuality a great sophomore season for the club. Second place in the Eastern Conference in the regular season, most goals scored by any team in the league, along with watching the rise of Patrick Vieira and Jack Harrison. Unfortunately, that is not what NYCFC fans remember about 2016…
Heading into the 2017 season, NYCFC has its sights set on nothing but an improvement upon last year and ultimately a berth in the MLS Cup final. However, the success of the season does not need to necessarily depend on the end outcome. If NYCFC truly wants to have a successful season, here are five things they need to strive for in order to achieve success.
1) Defensive Consistency is a Must
Despite leading the MLS in goals scored, NYCFC was 17th in the league with 57 goals against in 2016 season. Sure this number could be slightly inflated due to the smaller field size at Yankee Stadium, but defense errors were common in 2016 amongst the ever rotating back-line. In 2017, NYCFC should aim to have a consistent back-line that learns how to play with one another. This will help familiarize the defense structure of the team which would greatly benefit new goalkeeper, Sean Johnson. In addition to that, avoiding huge mental lapses in the defensive third would help decrease last year’s tally significantly. Too many times throughout the year goals were conceeded at the expense of a mental lapse by a center-back or fullback. Eliminate the errors, have a set backline, and get familiar with each other. That should be the goal this season in the defense.
2) Give the New Guys a Shot
Over the offseason, NYCFC did not hold back on bringing in new talent to address almost every point of concern. Notable additions this offseason include goalkeeper Sean Johnson (who will presumably take over the #1 spot since Josh Saunders was traded to Orlando City,) 2016 USL MVP striker Sean Okoli, Peruvian center-back Alexander Callens, and the versitale Maxi Moralez who will take up the third designated player spot on NYCFC’s roster. In order to get the most out of these new players, Vieira needs to implement them immediately into the Starting XI and subs in order to gain an idea as to whom who he is going to stick with (foreshadowing) in the final half of the season.
3) Develop the Youngsters
Continuing off of his great rookie season, winger Jack Harrison will be available right from the start in 2017. Joining him during his sophomore season are MLS SuperDraft picks Johnathan Lewis, Kwame Awuah, and Jalen Brown. Vieira has shown over the past year that he is great at getting the most out of young players (Khiry Shelton, Jack Harrison, and even Mikey Lopez.) In order to continue growing the future of the club, Vieira needs to give opportunities to the rookies like he did in 2016. The benefit of doing so could be immense as Jonathan Lewis in particular has limitless potential.
4) Avoid the Big Defeat
In a press conference earlier in the 2016 season, Patrick Vieira stated that he would rather lose one game by a big margin rather than losing multiple games by a small margin. Now even though this is the right strategy to have, you still should avoid the big losses. In this 2017 campaign, NYCFC needs to aim to avoid any defeat by more than three goals. More specifically, the squad needs to have a sense of dignity and not lose to their rivals 7-0 at home. Again, losing 7-0 at home to your rivals is unacceptable.
5) Stick With Your Mojo
Injuries always occur and lineup changes are necessary. Despite that, NYCFC needs to have a consistent Starting XI and formation that can be used come playoff time. Last year in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Toronto FC, Vieira went away from his tried and trusted 4-3-3 along with starting players who hadn’t had ample amount of game time throughout the regular season. As NYCFC fans know all too well, the team collapsed and embarrassingly fell out of the playoffs. This year, NYCFC needs to solidify a system, Starting XI, and a play style during the regular season so that when playoff time comes, the team doesn’t worry about adjusting to their opponents and have an aggressive “come and take it” mentality.
If NYCFC can focus on these five things, then expect the team to have a phenomenal third year along with making a deep run into the MLS playoffs.