After the first four games of the season, 2016 New York City FC have exactly the same number of points that 2015 NYCFC had after their first four games.
And they have exactly the same goal differential.
So, after all the changes and promises and transfers and rumours, it’s fair to ask: how different is NYCFC 2016 versus NYCFC 2015?
At least, that’s what’s been flooding the NYCFC blogs, podcasts, threads, groups, tin cans and barrooms this week. Resulting in elaborate comparisons of the strength of the teams NYCFC have faced this year compared to last year. Endless reviews of the number of passes attempted and completed and length and by whom and when and why. Detailed discussions of the amount of hair gel per follicle at home games versus away. Okay, maybe not.
All of which ultimately is fantastically irrelevant since at this point last year, Portland Timbers kinda sucked and yet they were the ones hoisting the cup in November while the rest of us were sitting on our couches explaining into our laptops why, according to the data, they really shouldn’t be.
The question only matters in terms of progress. Or the illusion of progress. Or the semblance of the illusion of progress. Which, as we know by now, is pretty much my stock and trade.
And the question isn’t even “how different is NYCFC 2016 versus NYCFC 2015?”, really. It’s, “Is this team better than last year’s team, in spite of data to the contrary?”
To figure THAT out (which frankly is a much more interesting question), I had to construct a representative starting XI for each team. So I went back to the starting lineups for the first four games for each season, and picked the guys who played the most games in aggregate (that’s the number in parenthesis next to their names). Here’s what I ended up with.
NYCFC 2016 versus NYCFC 2015 phase 1:
* Velasquez and Ballouchy each started 2 games.
[And yeah, I know, this isn’t quite the formation they played – but it’ll suffice for our purposes]
Now, we cross out the commonalities to see the differences and that leaves us with:
NYCFC 2016 versus NYCFC 2015 phase 2:
Williams, Wingert, Brovsky Velasquez, Jacobson, Grabavoy & Nemec
And sure – last year NYCFC had McNamara, Shelton and, for a few minutes, Taylor, but it’s still a fair comparison because they weren’t key parts of the starting XI.
Now, as much as I loved Jacobson – his fight and attitude and determination – I’m seeing that same spirit in Bravo too so I think that they’re more or less a wash. Yes, Bravo is more talented, but Jacobson knew the league better, knew which guys’ heads you can get into and which you can’t. So, for my money they effectively cancel each other out.
NYCFC 2016 versus NYCFC 2015 phase 3:
Williams, Wingert, Brovsky Velasquez, Grabavoy & Nemec
Iraola, Matarrita, Pirlo, McNamara, Shelton and Taylor.
Here’s where things get interesting. Because clearly Iraola and Matarrita are an upgrade over Williams and Brovsky. So we give a point to NYCFC 2016, and remove the four defenders from the list.
Leaving us with:
NYCFC 2016 versus NYCFC 2015 phase 4:
Wingert, Velasquez, Grabavoy and Nemec
Pirlo, McNamara, Shelton and Taylor.
Okay, which four do you want?
Yeah, me too. This year’s. Even without thinking about the backline.
Look, I love Velasquez, and I hope he makes it back to an MLS club. And Grabavoy and Wingert were warriors for us during the dark days when nothing seemed to go right and I wish them nothing but success at Portland and Real Salt Lake. And Nemec, well he was, um…
But McNamara has made huge strides. And Pirlo can still do things no one else can or ever has done. And he’s started playing defense! And while, both Khiry and Tony have a lot to prove, they have more potential than Nemec ever did.
So if this year’s team is clearly better, why are they in exactly the same place as last year’s team? A fact that would be odd any season, but especially this one, when Orlando’s top of the east, Philadelphia’s in third, and Seattle’s bringing up the rear out west.
Whoa. Maybe things aren’t that different this year after all…
Main Photo: Michael Stewart, Getty Images