NYCFC 2020 Season Preview: Can they avoid CCL Hangover?

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(Editorial)- The NYCFC 2020 season is fast approaching, as they begin CCL play soon. NYCFC will face off against A.D. San Carlos of Costa Rica in the coming days, before beginning their MLS campaign against Columbus on March 1. While a majority of the roster has stayed the same, Rony Delia has taken over as manager after Dome Torrent left. Will a new system work? Will they be the same? Better? All those questions and more in our NYCFC Season preview.

NYCFC 2020 Preview: CCL, new systems, same results?

After finishing in first place in the eastern conference in 2019, NYCFC came out and laid an egg in the postseason, losing embarrassingly to Toronto FC, faceplanting in the final minutes. Weeks later, Dome Torrent walked away, and Claudio Reyna left to head on down to Austin FC.

NYCFC has largely kept together the same squad they boasted in 2019. Keaton Parks was brought in for keeps, and they’ve kept the same starting xi they boasted for most of last season. Their main departure was Ben Sweat, although they just replaced him with the starting left-back for the Icelandic National Team. So what are the questions and concerns for NYCFC this year?

Can Heber replicate his 2019?

A lot was made of the Heber Araujo signing in 2019, as there was some initial confusion about what their plan was. They had no true striker, and they were trying to take someone who played wide the majority of his career and turn him into a goal-scoring number 9. That’s exactly what they did, as he scored 15 goals in 22 league appearances. With the talent around him, Heber can easily replicate it. But is it within the same system? Delia’s formation will hold some similarities to Dome Torrent’s, but the nuances will be different. So does that lead to a down-turn in production from their most productive number nine since David Villa?

If NYCFC is going to be successful at all in 2019, it’s going to come on the backs of Heber scoring at the bare minimum, double-digit goal totals. Again, as long as he is surrounded by a healthy group of Maxi Moralez, Keaton Parks, Ronald Mitrita, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, he has the quality to do that. The question for me is whether or not Delia’s changes in what they did last year will enhance or detract from that production. Another key here is Heber’s health. When Heber wasn’t available, NYCFC was rather pedestrian. Not much consistency to offer going forward and a strong defense led to a lot of snoozefests in NYCFC matches. Heber’s health is the other factor here. While there are some questions here, I still won’t be surprised if/when Heber starts pushing the 20 goal mark in 2020.

Can NYCFC avoid CCL hangover?!

In 2018, CCL hangover bit Toronto FC in the rear end, as they went all the way to the final, only to end up near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and miss out on the postseason after going to back to back MLS Cup finals. In 2019, that team was Sporting KC, who started out with their hair on fire and finished with the third-worst record in MLS. Who of the five MLS squads are in that boat? A team like NYCFC could be a prime candidate.

They boast depth, but so did Sporting KC and Toronto. NYCFC also have the factor of a tumultuous offseason prior, with front-office upheavals, and a very late appointment of a manager. One thing that might actually save them from CCL hangover is if they struggle taking hold of Delia’s instructions, as Atlanta did with De Boer in 2019. Atlanta eventually rallied and turned into the force people expected them to be in 2019. However, their disconnect with De Boer’s instructions led to them facing a strenuous first CCL matchup, which ended later as they weren’t near firing on the right cylinders to get past Monterrey in the quarters.

That exit in the quarters saved them from another few weeks of fixture congestion which might have saved their legs further down the road. Maybe having a new manager going into CCL will have the same effect on NYCFC? Ultimately, this isn’t a team I’d peg for CCL hangover. They’re younger, deep, very much familiar with each other, and don’t have anywhere near the early injury crisis a team like Atlanta is facing right now.

Can they do it right when the lights are bright?

NYCFC was clearly one of the best teams in the regular season in the Eastern Conference. It’s easy to say that they were the best team in the league not named LAFC. However, there they were, committing stupid fouls inside the box at the death, after an uninspiring postseason performance against Toronto FC. That performance put a disappointing twist on what was the best season we’d seen out of NYCFC yet. The problem with NYCFC is not that they haven’t been good in the years past, it’s that they seem to shrink in their biggest moment of the season. When the lights are brightest, can their performance rise to meet that challenge? It takes another gear, another level of intensity to come through in those moments. Time and time again, NYCFC has done the opposite and shrunk in those moments.

NYCFC has the quality, the depth, the money to be one of the best teams in MLS. You can’t sleep on them one bit, but at the same time, you can’t be certain whether they’ll end up folding on themselves in spectacular fashion, yet again. Is 2020 the year NYCFC puts an end to that trend? Or is it just going to be another year of raised expectations that coincide with a disappointing end?

NYCFC 2020 Prediction: 3rd in the East, 55 points, eliminated in CCL quarterfinals (by Tigres).