Orlando City hits the road for the first time in 2018 this weekend to take on New York City FC in Yankee Stadium. While the Lions haven’t started the year as well as they might have liked, some of Head Coach Jason Kreis’s new pieces are finally coming into the fold. We’ll finally see the mustachioed maestro, Sacha Kljestan, in purple on Saturday.
The home side also has some new faces in light blue for Patrick Vieira, so we touched base with Christian Smith, managing editor of SB Nation’s NYCFC blog, Hudson River Blue, to learn more about this year’s version of the Pigeons.
What were the biggest off-season changes from last year’s side? Who do you expect to have the biggest impact this year and how do they fit in with the returning pieces?
Christian Smith: NYCFC had a really good off-season in terms of roster moves and was able to acquire some great players. But the biggest move, in my eyes, was definitely bringing 20-year-old Paraguayan winger Jesus Medina on a Designated Player contract. Medina has looked extremely strong through his first two MLS games, netting a goal and creating a ton of chances in the process. He can definitely be a star in the making and is sure to be vital to City’s success this season.
When it comes to who can make the biggest impact, however, my money is on new right back and 2017 Allvenskaan defender of the year Anton Tinnerholm. We acquired him from Malmo FF in the off-season and I feel that he is finally the solution when it comes to our longstanding issues at the right back position. He has already established himself as a threat on both defense and offense — he scored a goal against the LA Galaxy this past Sunday — and he also knows how to win, being a three-time Allsvenskan champion with Malmo. I truly believe he’s the last piece to the puzzle.
As far as missing out in 2018, I’d say that longtime midfielder Tommy McNamara is definitely the odd man out when it comes to his role moving forward. Maxi Moralez, Alex Ring, and Yangel Herrera are still the go-to guys when it comes to the midfield and it will be hard to supplant any of them. Not to mention our winger positions have never had more depth; you have the aforementioned Medina, Ismael Tajouri, Jonathan Lewis, and Jo Inge Berget. It’s truly a shame because I’m a huge T-Mac fan. But unfortunately, it seems that NYCFC is better off without him. For now, at least.
New York City FC has two wins on the bounce against Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy. What has been the biggest factor to securing six early points?
CS: It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific thing because, honestly, everyone has done their job thus far. But if I had to point to any one thing, it’s the midfield. Moralez, Ring, and Herrera are just such a powerhouse triumvirate and when they’re all healthy, I’d put them up against any midfield corps in the league. Moralez is a phenomenal play-maker — everything Andrea Pirlo was supposed to be. Ring is an absolute destroyer in the defensive mid, and Herrera is a potent box-to-box threat who likes to defend and put some extra shots on net. If beating NYCFC is what you desire, then they are the men you must deal with.
Orlando City surprisingly has the series lead over the last three years. What has been the biggest reason NYCFC has struggled against the Lions and how do you see Patrick Vieira attempting to overcome that?
CS: Two words: Cyle Larin. For some reason, he would absolutely destroy us every time our paths crossed. If my numbers are correct, Larin scored seven goals and notched an assist in seven total appearances against New York City. The guy was an absolute animal.
It doesn’t just come down to Larin, though. There were some emotional factors as well. Both NYCFC and Orlando entered the league in 2015 and played their first professional game against each other. Despite New York City investing all of its negative energy towards the local New York Red Bulls, Orlando saw us differently: to them, we were their rival. City fans didn’t see it that way. Though we definitely approached Orlando a bit differently, NYCFC didn’t approach them with nearly as much energy and passion in comparison to how OCSC approached us. That kind of disproportionate energy definitely came back to bite us in the rear end more often than not.
Despite that, I don’t think Patrick Vieira approaches the Lions any differently than he did Sporting KC or the Galaxy. I believe Patty V doubles down on his unique, meticulous play-from-the-back style and trusts the abilities of the new players he has at his disposal.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your predicted lineup and final score?
CS: Backup forward Jo Inge Berget has been dealing with a calf injury since the preseason and has been on the injured list ever since. He was listed as questionable against LA on Sunday and if I had to take a guess, I’d say this weekend won’t be any different. Apart from that, however, NYCFC comes into this weekend’s game at full strength, barring any injuries this week in training.
I suspect New York City to line up as follows: Sean Johnson; Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot, Alex Callens, Ben Sweat; Yangel Herrera, Alex Ring, Maxi Moralez; Jesus Medina, David Villa, Rodney Wallace.
Final score: 2-1 in favor of New York City. The boys have had a great start to their season — their best start in franchise history, in fact. And despite their spotty record against the Lions, I don’t expect them to take their first loss at home in the Bronx.
Thanks again to Christian for taking the time to give us the low-down on NYCFC.