Next season’s MLS schedule isn’t known yet, but based on the past, there’s less than 90 days before New York City kick off their second season, and likely less than 60 before the preseason begins in earnest. With the offseason less than a week old, New York City has barely begun overhauling their roster.
Tonight’s game against Puerto Rico’s national team, therefore, is a bit weird; less a pre-season prep, more a post-season money-spinner. That’s perfectly fine, for both teams. It even has some utility: the Blues are trialling two players - former Sounders defensive stalwart Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and goalkeeper Andre Rawls. Expect Hurtado to see decent minutes on the defense.
For the Blue Hurricane, as Puerto Rico’s national team is known, it’s a rare chance to play a competitive game, friendly though it may be. The 172nd-ranked Puerto Ricans don’t play often; their 2018 World Cup is already over, having been eliminated by Grenada over two legs, 2-1. They’re truly minnows, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatic pushovers. They played Spain close in 2012, losing 2-1. I'd fully expect that they'll give New York City a decent challenge.
That said, Puerto Rico is a particularly apt opponent for the Blues. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders was their netminder for a number of years, as well as playing for then-USL Puerto Rico Islanders. Defender Jason Hernandez is Puerto Rican, and with their home stadium in the Bronx, where so many Puerto Ricans live, the Blues have a staunch and devoted Boricua fan-base.
I'd imagine New York City lines up in some variation of the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 they were using at the end of the season. Patrick Vieira doesn't take over until the new year, but I'd be shocked if he hasn't made some suggestions on how to set the team up.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico lines up in a flat 4-4-2. That's the formation they rolled out in their last two competitive matches, against Grenada in the second round of CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Puerto Rico's most accomplished player is likely forward Hector 'Pito' Ramos. Ramos, who's currently without a club, last played for Saudi club Al-Qadisiyah FC. Before that, he played for Isidro Metapán in El Salvador. Other notable players are Deniz Bozkurt and Alexis Rivera.
The Blues are hosting a watch party at Woodwork BK at Vanderbilt Ave tonight. If you cannot make it, the match will be televised on YES, and streamed on YouTube.
What should be the takeaways?
- No injuries. The club's three DPs should play no more than 5-10 minutes, at most. This is an utterly meaningless game, and nothing would be more catastrophic than losing one of them to a long-term injury.
- How well does Hurtado play? The Blues' biggest weakness is defense. That's why they traded for Ethan White yesterday. That's why they're trying out Hurtado. Hurtado last played in 2014 for Chivas USA; he appeared in just 6 games. But he was a solid performer for the Sounders. Hurtado had good speed, he’s a good man-to-man marker, a steady tackler, but depended on his speed to close people down. As that declined, so did his playing minutes. We'll see how he looks after missing a year.