PREVIEW – “To stand still today is to go backwards… and quickly.” That’s a quote from British business mogul Richard Branson, a poignantly accurate statement about life and the way we live it. It’s also punishingly accurate for MLS clubs today. In a league where every team is getting better with more lenient roster rules, a club standing still in a rapidly changing league is a sign that the club is going backwards. Let’s take a look at everything that’s gone on this winter with an NYCFC season preview.
2021 NYCFC Season Preview
Fans and supporters alike are fearing a similar fate for NYCFC. A once-promising club with an endless ceiling, The Pigeons have retracted to a questionable front office, toxic club environment, and underwhelming on-pitch success resulting in no silverware from six roller coaster ceilings. Now in year seven, patience wears thin as City look to compete in a tantalizing eastern conference.
- Alexander Ring (CM; Austin FC; $1.25 Million)
- Ronald Matarrita (LB; FC Cincinnati; $600k)
- Gary Mackay-Stevens (LM; Hearts; Free)
Three starters leave the club with three bizarrely different legacies. Gary Mackay-Stevens came into the Big Apple as an exciting depth piece in a buzzing attack. However, with injuries and Mitrita’s departure, Mackay-Stevens was thrust into the spotlight. The results were dire, with the Scot’s inability to finish and lack of quality in the box on full display in what’s a season to regret.
Ronald Matarrita’s tenure was more questionable. A decisive two-way fullback, Matarrita was constantly in a shadow. Whether it be opposite Anton Tinnerholm, or in front of an ever-changing left side of the attack, Matarrita was never given the environment to thrive.
Alex Ring, on the other hand, will go down as one of the club’s first legends. Arriving just as David Villa was declining, Ring gave the club an identity when it needed one the most. A stalwart centrally befitting the captain’s armband, Ring was the constant at a time when the club was starting to become the opposite. Highlighting such a fact was 2019 when a midfield led by Ring carried The Pigeons to a first-place finish in the east and its first-ever CONCACAF Champions League berth.
- Thiago Andrade (LW; FC Bahia; $1.8 Million)
- Malte Amundson (LB; Vejle BK; $1.44 Million)
- Alfredo Morales (CM; Fortuna Dusseldorf; $100k)
- Chris Gloster (LB; PSV; Free)
- Andres Jasson (LW; Yale; MLS Homegrown Deal)
Highlighting the arrivals is former USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales. Morales will play his first-ever club match on American soil after spending his entire career in Germany, most recently for Bundesliga 2. side Fortuna Dusseldorf. Morales made 62 appearances across three seasons for the German side and enters a crowded midfield room.
With Matarrita departed, two left-back signings were made in the form of Malte Amundsen and Chris Gloster. Amundsen brings a young yet decorative career to the locker room, including a Norwegian Super cup and multiple youth appearances for Denmark. Gloster also brings youth experience via the stars and stripes, most notably as a starter in the USYNT’s 3-2 win over France in the 2019 U-20 World Cup.
Brazilian winger Thiago Andrade is the latest to join the Citizens. The 4th most expensive signing in the club’s history, Andrade brings with it a project, with the winger not making a senior appearance for any club in his career.
Then there is Andres Jasson, NYCFC’s undrafted homegrown that’s creating lots of buzz in training camp. Jasson’s been on the scoresheet of multiple preseason matches, including a match-winner vs. DC United. What to make out of the former Yale winger is unknown, but he’s checked all of the boxes to warrant Ronny Deila’s attention thus far.
The Club Captain Debate:
The biggest question mark this season is who wears the captain’s armbad. A seemingly uncontroversial take given to David Villa and Alex Ring in the past. But with both careers in the big apple behind them, the debate rages on about who leads the team in 2021.
Many in the NYCFC circle predict that honor will go to goalkeeper Sean Johnson or No. 10 Maxi Moralez. But my third party pick will go to James Sands. At just 20-years-old, Sands solidifies himself as City’s anchor in midfield and a newfound leader in what’s a tumultuous roster. Sands has proven himself as a leader already with an endless ceiling. Having him befit the captain is a deserving step in his young career.
Who Starts at Left-Wing?
The other debate in the XI is who plays on the left side of the attack. That role was given to Mackay-Stevens, the only natural left midfielder and one that really didn’t deserve a starter role for an MLS playoff team.
This year has two natural candidates, Andres Jasson and Thiago Andrade. With both lacking any senior-level experience, however, it seems difficult to give them a starting role this season. Then there’s other new signing Chris Gloster, but I expect him to start in his natural fullback position then risk a career stalemate up top. That means my pick is natural right winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. In a tumultuous season that can feature up to three matches in a week, having experience and match sharpness will be key to success. The Libyan international checks those boxes off.
Red Bull Arena:
As with any NYCFC conversation nowadays, a note on their home ground must be in the discussion. This is no old news considering the club is in year seven without even a stadium plan. This alone can turn fans off with supporting the club, let alone the other dramas plaguing the team at the moment.
What’s hitting newfound frustrations is the record number of matches being played at Red Bull Arena. Once an embarrassing asterisk on the calendar, The Blues playing in their rivals place has become the new norm. For the first time, City will be playing more matches at Red Bull Arena (eight home, two away;) then Yankee Stadium (nine home.)
This caused a mass exodus of season ticket members, and rightfully so. If NYCFC are to become a giant in MLS, having a place they call home is key. It’s one thing to play home games on a baseball field, it’s another to play on your rivals ground.
The key to continued success is stability, and NYCFC has none of it.
Last Word: 2021 Season Prediction
With all the controversy and mismanagement aside, NYCFC still has a very competent product on the pitch. From a top tier keeper to a youthful but experienced midfield, and one of the best chance creators in the league at the 10, The Pigeons are still a club that you don’t wanna play in the season. While everyone predicts a drop-off from them, the experience and quality on the pitch alone will be enough for a playoff berth. But with minimal improvements, don’t expect the club to go far in the postseason without more transfers in the summer.