The Major League Soccer season kicks off in 51 days. Preseason is even closer; it starts next Saturday, January 24, in Jacksonville, Fla. As things stand, New York City still has three needs:
- A quality defensive midfielder, especially if the team is going to predominantly use a diamond formation;
- A solid forward to augment the offense;
- A left back
Yesterday, New York City addressed two of those needs in the MLS Super Draft. They selected forward Khiry Watson with the number 2 pick, and drafted a potential left back in Connor Brandt with the 23rd pick. Brandt played midfield in college, but slotted as a left back during the draft combine.
At this point, the roster, now with 22 players, is looking far more complete than it ever has. The team still needs a defensive midfielder, but most of the other positions look like they’re covered. That’s a dramatic change in just the course of a month; between the expansion draft in December and yesterday’s college draft, the roster’s ballooned. They still have to train and play together, which is something that Orlando City has an decided advantage on, but this is a solid, well-balanced roster between youth and seasoned MLS players.
Based on that, we’re going to start projecting lineups here periodically, until we get a regular starting XI. Here’s our first crack at it, with some notes below. I’m using a modified diamond formation. I’ve also created lineups with a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1, and a 4-3-2-1.
Goalkeeper: I've marked Fitzgerald as the starting keeper, despite the fact that both Meara and Saunders have four inches on him. Fitzgerald was good for Carolina in the NASL. So was Saunders, but he's 33, spent about 18 months out of soccer, and had his last MLS stint (with RSL, oddly enough) cut short by a knee injury. He's probably there for locker room & veteran leadership purposes. Meara was outstanding for about six months three years ago; I'm sure the talent's still there, but he's had precious little playing time since. For those reasons, Fitzgerald is my first-choice keeper.
RB: Josh Williams is my starting RB out of the gate, but I wouldn’t rule out Brovsky out. The thing with Brovsky is that he simply didn’t play much while on loan in Norway, whereas Williams played in 14 games last year and 27 the year before. From that vantage point, it probably makes more sense to start Williams and platoon him with Brovsky, rather than the other way around. Both are 26; Williams is an inch taller and 22 pounds heavier. It’s good to have depth in that position, which is the opposite of what New York City has at left back.
CB: If George John is healthy, and even 75% of the player he was before being injured, he and Hernandez are my back line rocks. It’s easy to forget this, but before getting hurt, George John was the best uncapped center back in the league, and it was a question of when, not if, he’d be playing for the national team.
Then he got injured.
From that point on, John simply hasn’t seen playing time, between injury and recovery. Picking him in the expansion draft was worth doing, though, because if he can get back to that level, or even close to it, he’s one of the best backs in the league. If not, New York City has two capable defenders in Andrés Mendoza and Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Between those two, I give Mendoza the edge given that he’s played more regular minutes than Watson-Siriboe, who largely languished whilst on loan to the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL.
LB: Chris Wingert is my left back, but Connor Brandt is likely his long-term replacement. Wingert is great, and excelled for Real Salt Lake, which is why Kreis selected him in the expansion draft. But Wingert is also 32, with some mileage on him. Getting Brandt — who will probably be getting solid minutes at Wilmington as a left back — as his replacement in the draft addresses that need to a degree, but don’t be surprised if the team signs another left back. Conversely, one of either Mendoza or Watson-Siriboe may shift to the left as needed, though neither has really played that position.
DM: New York City's biggest single need right now is a defensive midfielder. They don't have one.
Our six midfielders are either shuttlers, box-to-box mids, or attacking mids. Dunn played some holding midfielder, but he's young; I'm uncertain Kreis places that burden on his shoulders. If NYC doesn't sign a d-mid, then Grabavoy steps in, but it's much better to sign one. Like Brandt, Dunn is another player that could start the season at Wilmington as a holding midfielder or defensive midfielder before moving on up to the Bronx.
There are some MLS veteran options available if New York City wants to go that route, which I’ll explore in a future post. They could also pick up an international player to fill that hole. Javier Calle, who has been linked to the club in recent reports, has reputedly played in that position, but most accounts have him playing central midfield or attacking midfield. On top of that, Calle’s most recent experience is with Deportivo Medellín of the Colombian second division. Maybe Calle is a diamond in the rough, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
LM: Jacobson is the starting left-midfielder; if NYC sign a defensive midfielder, then Grabavoy is the starter at left. Ballouchy spells either from the bench.
RM: I've got Mix lining up on the right. Everyone seems to think he's a number 10, but he really isn't. Where Mix excels is as a hybrid 8/10, playing off the shoulder of a number 6. In an ideal world, New York City would simply trade to get Michael Bradley from TFC, and play him at the 6, which is where Bradley should play, forever and ever, amen, until the end.
But that's not going to happen. Regardless, Mix plays on the right. That’s where he plays at his best, and I’m a big believer in putting players in a position where they can excel, as opposed to forcing them into slots they’re ill-equipped for.
AM: Until Lampard comes in July, it's the Mullet Bros: Thomas McNamara and Sebastían Velasquez. After? Lampard, obviously, though I think he's really an 8, not a 10.
F: David Villa and Patrick Mullins and Khiry Shelton. Tony Taylor is allegedly a striker, but the last time anyone saw him play was three years ago. I'm not entirely convinced he's a real player, either.
New York City in a 4-3-3
Here, I've moved Grabavoy to defensive midfield. I've slotted McNamara on the right as a winger, and substituted Khiry Shelton for Patrick Mullins. Shelton was noted for his ability to create as well as score in college, so 4-3-3 would be an excellent formation for him.
New York City in a 4-2-3-1
In this formation, Jacobson and Grabavoy are down low as midfielders; Jacobson is a box-to-box midfielder, so this shouldn't tax him. Diskerud drifts from right to center as needed, as befits his hybrid 8/10 play. McNamara is again on the right, and Shelton on the left, with Villa leading the line.If Villa is unable to play, then Mullins is your center forward.
New York City in a 4-3-2-1
Finally, here's what New York City looks in a 4-3-2-1. Grabavoy is the defensive midfielder, Jacobson on left, Diskerud higher up on the right. McNamara drops down slightly here, as does Shelton. Villa leads the line. If Villa is unable to go, Mullins steps in.