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Monday Evening Centerback: There Goes the Undefeated Season

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In the back of our minds, we knew New York City FC wouldn't go undefeated, but it was fun to dream while it lasted.

Matt Besler Beats Patrick Mullins for an Aerial Ball
Matt Besler Beats Patrick Mullins for an Aerial Ball
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we knew the unbeaten streak wouldn't last all season. Against a prepared, veteran team, an undermanned NYCFC fell at home. You can catch up on the game with Sam's earlier recap.

Before we move on to Philadelphia, a few thoughts on this weekend's loss:

  • The Pitch: It only took two games to see a real, tangible impact of a short field. Unfortunately, the home side wasn't the one to capitalize on the funky dimensions. Instead, the field size played right into the hands of one of Sporting KC's strengths: Matt Besler's throw-ins. Besler is second in the league in throw-ins into the box in the last three years (Sheanon Williams) and has almost double the No. 3 ranked player. Credit the SKC staff for their preparation and scouting, as evidenced by the textbook play on the lone goal.
  • Midfield and Forwards: In the team's brief history, we've seen a number of instances where the midfielders and forwards seem unable to connect and that problem continued this weekend. The Sky Blues dominated the possession, 62 percent to 37, but it much of it was empty possession. They possessed the ball for large portions of time right below the midfield line. The ball seemed to be in a constant triangle between Mix and Jacobson and either Kwame Watson-Siriboe or Jason Hernandez. When NYCFC tried to turn it up the field, they rarely established solid possession in the upper half of the pitch -- aside from the desperate last 10 minutes. Evidence of the poor passing? NYCFC's 140 failed passes were the third most in an MLS match since 2012 (common denominator among the top five: Sporting Kansas City was the opponent in three of them.)

    This disjointed connection wasn't really an issue of missing David Villa or Adam Nemec - though they certainly would have helped. Instead this was a continuation of the inability to bridge the midfield and the forwards. With two weeks off, expect Kreis to work on creating a better bridge between the two groups.

  • Longballs: New York City FC seemed to constantly be pushed out of position or struggle to gain possession of long balls and aerial balls. As a team, the club attempted an astounding 97 long balls, which is a simple recipe for poor passing and fleeting possession. In particular, they seemed to struggle on Josh Saunders goalkicks, which was especially frustrating since those mean an immediate loss of possession following a chance by SKC. Opta credits the team with seven of 14 completed passes on Josh Saunders longballs, but it certainly seemed like they were constantly losing possession on those balls.

    Patrick Mullins, in particular, was outmuscled for headers (credited with wins on 44 percent of aerial balls). Granted, he was up against an elite MLS defender in Matt "Waffle Man" Besler. Nemec's height and Villa's world-class skill would have helped win a few more of these balls.

  • Personnel: As has been noted in many places, the personnel that Kreis rolled out this weekend isn't what the NYCFC brass had in mind when they brought the team together. However, it gave us a better look at some of the deeper parts of the roster.
  • On the plus side:
  • Aside from the scoring play, Watson-Siriboe acquitted himself well, with eight clearances, including six headers.
  • Kwadwo Poku provided energy and forward movement from the midfield. He looked raw and lost the ball a few times because he was playing fast, but overall he injected some life and urgency into the attack when he came on.
  • Tony Taylor provided a similar attacking spark. Perhaps he had more opportunities than Javier Calle since the team was pressing up more at the time he came in, but Taylor created some solid chances and demanded more attention from the defense than Calle did during his time.
  • On the minus side:
  • Patrick Mullins looked overmatched against one of the better fullback pairings in the league. As the central forward focus for the defense without Villa in the lineup, he struggled to get free and create any meaningful chances (he finished with one shot, which Luis Marin saved).
  • Similarly, Javier Calle failed to make a meaningful impression on the game and was subbed out. He didn't attempt a shot and the 0-fer on completed passes by Calle and Mullins showed they were never in sync and never possessed the ball in any serious manner.
  • Expansion Team Blues: The season wasn't going to be all wins and draws for NYCFC. The SKC game was the first where NYCFC's expansion DNA really showed through.

    The goal was a result of two factors that may be linked to its newcomer status: Sporting KC's understanding of their players' strengths based on years of experience and a lack of institutional knowledge on NYCFC of the opponent.

    The skill of an expansion team can be masked when the team's rolling out a World Cup winner (Villa), a No. 2 overall SuperDraft pick (Shelton), an English Premier League loanee (Facey) and a national team player (Nemec). When those layers are stripped away, an expansion team starts to show the level of talent that most new teams work with.

  • What else did you notice about this week's loss? What needs to be addressed most before the home side faces Philadelphia?