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Is it Broke Yet? NYCFC’s Loss to D.C. United

From Last Word on Soccer, by Martin Bihl

On my long drive through the mid-Atlantic night after NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United, I had the opportunity to listen to several New York City Football Club podcasts. Now,  I am too much of a gentleman to call out the specific predictions my friends made. But I would be remiss if I did not point out that, nearly to a man (no women were on the podcasts; more’s the pity), they all prefaced their predictions with the same observation:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Don’t change the line up. Or the strategy. Or the substitutions, or the approach. The team are on a three-match unbeaten streak. Why mess with that?

Is it Broke Yet? NYCFC’s Loss to D.C. United

But after NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United, in which their winless streak on the road continued, against a team that had scored only two goals all season and that had a -5 goal differential (lopsided in part because of the pasting NYCFC put on them a month earlier), one must ask if perhaps now things are in fact broke. Er, broken. If the glitches we’ve seen were not merely bumps in the road, but, as the lady says, “an early clue to the new direction”.

The Case That it’s Broken

The shoddy defense that led to the goal against San Jose. That turned three points into one against Montreal. That gave up as many goals to D.C. United as they had previously scored all season. The concern that no matter who the team bring in, no matter what combination of players are used, no matter what formation is employed, the NYCFC defense compares unfavorably with Swiss cheese. As one fan said to me, “I felt like I was watching last season all over again.”

This is the case that NYCFC’s broke.

Add to that the dearth of goals scored by captain David Villa. Which is concerning on its face, but more worrisome when one remembers that the team will be without Frank Lampard’s sizable contribution this season.

And finally, that the formation the team displayed during NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United was, shall we say “curious.” Sometimes Maxi Moralez was on the front line. Sometimes he was not. Sometimes Jack Harrison was in the midfield. Other times it looked like he was on the backline. Sometimes Rodney Wallace was in the midfield. Sometimes he was not. As someone who has watched a confused and dis-spirited US Men’s National team conduct themselves this way, NYCFC’s performance is at least irritating if not actually alarming.

The Case That it’s Not

Orlando had one real chance in their match, and they converted. Montreal, essentially the same. And in NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United two mistakes resulted in two goals. Simple as that. Are mental errors acceptable? Of course not. But the point is, NYCFC are not being dominated. Quite the contrary; they’ve had more possession and better passing accuracy than the opposition in every game this season. And their biggest margins were in the two matches they lost.

Which all would seem to indicate that no, it’s not broke, that these are just bumps in the road. Disappointing bumps to be sure. But the kinds of unfortunate breaks of the game that happen to even the best of teams. If you’re dominating, if you’re making your passes and if you’re creating chances, then the wins will come. Especially when you have players like David Villa, Jack Harrison, Rodney Wallace, Maxi Moralaz, and Tommy McNamara on the pitch. And when you have Patrick Vieira on the touchline.

And when you couple that with the fact that, of NYCFC’s first five matches, two were against teams in the top third of their divisions – to whom they gave up a total of two goals and from whom they took three points – one has to be reassured about the state of the team.

What’s Next?

All that said, there would seem to be two options available to Patrick Vieira after NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United. One is that he uses the starting XI’s lackluster play on Saturday as an opportunity to make some wholesale changes. This would allow him to reward players who haven’t been able to get on the pitch. And to punish those who may have gotten complacent.

The other option is for him to ride herd on his team this week in training and then start his regular squad to see if they respond the way professionals ought to.

Either way, he has a tremendous opportunity to send a message to his team. And it couldn’t happen at a better time. Because not only does it come early in the season, when it can really do some good, but as NYCFC face ostensibly the worst side in the league. The Philadelphia Union are one of two winless teams left (Montreal are the other one). They are currently -4 on goal differential. And curiously for a team that calls the lovely Talen Energy Stadium home, they seem as woeful there as they are on the road.

And while after NYCFC’s loss to D.C. United it would be nice to take at least one point back to Yankee Stadium (especially as the team face the top two teams in the division in the next two weeks), I would still be satisfied with no points if I felt that NYCFC had used this episode to reforge themselves as the dangerous and unified fighting force we know they can be.

That would be the best result of all.


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