It’s finally that time again, as the first match of the 2019 MLS season is almost upon us. There have been plenty of changes to the Orlando City team that will take the field tomorrow, but strong performances at the Orlando City Invitational have sparked a little hope that this year may be a departure from past disappointments. With that being said, those were preseason games and we’d all be wise to keep a firm hold on our expectations as the new season gets started.
This week, New York City FC comes back to town, just a few short weekends after losing to the Lions in the aforementioned Orlando City Invitational. In preparation for the game and to deliver the first Intelligence Report of the year I headed to New York (electronically speaking) to have a midnight meeting behind a Yankee Stadium dumpster with Christian Smith of SB Nation’s own Hudson River Blue to learn what’s new with the Pigeons.
For the last three years in MLS, NYCFC hasn’t finished lower than third in the Eastern Conference. What do you believe is the biggest reason for this continued success?
Christian Smith: I think it’s the fact that NYCFC hasn’t deviated from its play style and philosophy too much since 2016. With Jason Kreis, the club lacked an identity and seemed to improvise a lot. When Patrick Vieira came in, the club had a bona fide style to cling to, come hell or high water. That, along with the new philosophy of getting the right players and not just the best players is definitely what people should point to when it comes to the club’s success.
One of the more prominent stories of the off-season was David Villa’s departure from the club where he was the team’s first ever player, Designated Player, and team captain. How will the club look to replace what he brought on the field (80 goals in 120 MLS appearances)?
CS: At this moment, that remains to be seen. Obviously, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi was proven to be quite the goal-scoring threat last season. And new DP Alexandru Mitrita looks like he has an eye for goal as well. But the truth is this: there is no possible way you can replace a player like David Villa. His skills, pedigree, and world class field presence just isn’t a commonality. The best NYCFC can do is bring in a collective of players who can all contribute, as opposed to one huge superstar that the team can lean on.
While this is the first competitive match of the season, what are your early expectations for NYCFC and how do you predict this year will go?
CS: I’d like to say that NYCFC can accomplish anything this season and on paper, they surely can. However, the team post-Villa is still a complete enigma right now. Plus, we’re still not sure whether or not Dome Torrent is actually a good head coach. The differences between how the team performed last season both before and after Vieira left for France were night and day. If I had to personally guess, I’d say this is a team that can grab fourth in the Eastern Conference and maybe sneak into the Eastern Conference Finals. Thus far, it has shown nothing to prove it is a legitimate Cup contender.
What injuries or suspensions will keep players out of this Saturday’s contest, and what is your predicted starting lineup?
CS: Luckily for us, NYCFC currently has a clean bill of health apart from left back Ronald Matarrita whom I’d say will be questionable going into Saturday. When it comes to the lineup, I’d say it will look something like this
GK: Sean Johnson
RB: Anton Tinnerholm
RCB: Maxime Chanot
LCB: Alex Callens
LB: Ronald Matarrita/Ben Sweat
CM: Alex Ring
CM: Keaton Parks
CM: Maxi Moralez
RW: Jesus Medina
CF: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi
LW: Alexandru Mitrita
Thanks Christian for the updates and insight on NYCFC. Vamos Orlando!