Orlando City enters the weekend on a rare two-game home losing streak. Things won’t get any easier for the Lions with New York City FC coming to town. The soccer Yankees have been among the Eastern Conference leaders most of the year and have rounded into fine form since Frank Lampard remembered he was Frank Lampard.
The margin for error is gone. If the Lions are going to play postseason soccer they must get home results and probably steal a point or two on the road that they have no business getting.
Here to help us scout tomorrow night’s opponents is Jake Gofman from SB Nation’s New York City FC blog, Hudson River Blue. And if you want to see how I responded to their questions, you can head over to their place.
The Hudson River Derby is the biggest event on the NYCFC schedule, but Major League Soccer is now pitting New York City and Orlando City against each other on Rivalry Week. Does this mean this is now an official rivalry? Was it ever? Was it always? How do NYC fans view these meetings?
Jake Gofman: As you are probably aware, MLS and MLS-related media has an insatiable urge to create rivalries for it's large clubs. My guess is they see this as a way to grow the brand and bring national attention to their big clubs. Whatever the reason, they have put lots of marketing into the Hudson River Derby and now into promoting our game this Sunday. Do I think we have a real rivalry with Red Bulls? Not really, since we can't seem to beat them. Do I think we have one with Orlando? I don't think so either, but for another reason.
In my opinion, rivalries comes from the unity of competition and contempt: when your players (and by extension, your fans) despise losing to the opposing team (and its fans) and vice versa, you get the kind of atmosphere that you need for a rivalry. We have this atmosphere with RBNY; however, we have five losses and one solitary win in all matches against Red Bulls, so calling it a rivalry seems like a stretch.
With Orlando, I'm not sure if I see the hatred of losing when the two teams get together. We've played some close games, with Orlando ahead in the series (2-1-2), and I recall incidents from last season and some minor ones from this one, but I don't see a rivalry, yet. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of rivalries — I think they can elevate the seemingly ordinary into something great — but I'd rather they come about in a more organic way. If Orlando and New York are to have a rivalry, let's see it on the field first, and then talk about it after.
Although these two 2015 expansion teams have met twice this season, it’s been a while since the last meeting, in which the Lions came back from two goals down after David Villa’s missed penalty. Since then, New York City has spent a lot of time at the top of the conference. How in the world has that happened while the team has simultaneously allowed 43 goals? Is winning that way sustainable?
JG: The 43 goals conceded is a nasty number to look at, but somewhat easier to stomach when you consider that an unusual amount of goals came from a few games. In our two losses to Red Bulls we conceded 11 total goals, while in two games against Columbus Crew we've allowed six: that's 17 goals in 4 games. Not great, Bob! We can save our discussion about why we have problems with these teams for another day. The point is, we are a more below average defensive team once these lopsided numbers are addressed. If we can move into the middle of the league defensively, which seems possible, I think the winning can be sustainable.
What took us to the top of the Eastern Conference was not defending, but goal scoring, and the emergence (or re-emergence) of two players: Frank Lampard and Jack Harrison. We'll address Lampard in the next question, but the inclusion of Harrison in the squad as an outsider midfielder has had a twofold effect. Firstly, Jack has been excellent as an attacking player. He looks dangerous on the ball in space, has the vision of a CM (because he is/was one), and a goal scoring touch I'm sure many (including myself) didn't expect. His secondary impact is just as important as his primary contribution on the field; however, and it's something that I believe goes unnoticed. As a midfielder playing in an attacking role, Jack is asked to cover back more than the typical winger. The same goes for Tommy McNamara, who, not coincidentally, is also a midfielder by trade. These two provide additional coverage for our creative midfield, Pirlo and Lampard, and support for Iraola, who plays a CDM role. Jack (and Tommy as well) enable us to get these two seasoned internationals on the fielder together in a way that does not expose us defensively.
In all, the transition to this formation has been the catalyst for our success. It's provided balance in our defense but enabled us to keep several dangerous and talented offensive players on the field simultaneously.
Frank Lampard has gone from being a punchline around MLS to…well, Frank Lampard. How vital is he to what New York City FC does and has he surpassed David Villa as the team’s most important player?
JG: I'll address the later half of this questions first — no, he has not yet surpassed David Villa as the team's most important player. Not only are Villa's contributions on the pitch over the last two seasons greater than Frank's excellent run of form, but Villa is also the team's emotional leader and has taken this role with gusto. For fans that have been here since the team was announced, Villa is someone who has stuck around through the good and bad times and been a massive contributor all along (the same cannot be said for Frank). He speaks on behalf of the club, and has even improved his English considerably to do so. Frank is transitioning smoothly from villain to favorite, but Villa will also be the captain and leader.
That being said, Frank's play over the last several months has been nothing short of spectacular and an ode to his days back at Chelsea. Credit to Vieira, who took it upon himself to tactically find a way for Frank the Tank to excel in the same ways he did when at Chelsea. In moving to the formation I described in the previous question, Frank is once again free to roam box-to-box and be an effective and efficient player in the final third. More and more we are seeing Frank getting on the end of service or finding himself in the right place at the right time to convert. He seems to be in considerably better fitness in comparison to last season, but I think the way he's enjoying his football has been most vital to his success.
For New York, having a midfield player behind Villa that can make goal-scoring runs, as well as killer passes, is massive. It forces the defense to have to worry about two players coming forward through the middle instead of one, and it has allowed Villa to exploit more space in this area than he's had before.
Can you please give us your current injuries, suspensions, a projected lineup and a final score prediction for Sunday?
Connor Brandt and Shannon Gomez are out. The club has no suspensions to report.
Lineup: Saunders; Matarrita, Brillant, Chanot, Hernandez; Pirlo, Iraola, Lampard; McNamara, Villa, Harrison
NYC FC continue to ride their good form and win, 2-0. Goals from Harrison and Lampard.
Big thanks to Jake for taking time to answer some questions about this weekend’s visiting foes.