So: another game, another loss. It's clear that -- right now -- New York City are not a good team.
And that's okay. Seriously: it's okay.
Right now, New York City have played seven games. They've lost three times. They've drawn three times. And there's just the one, lonely victory. It feels so long ago, no?
Going into Friday's game against Chicago, the team is on a five game winless streak. Which sounds...not good. Obviously, you'd like the team to not have a winless streak of any kind.
But seen from another angle, New York City have six points so far. And the three draws could easily have been wins: Orlando needed a moment of magic from Kakà; Sapong was Johnny-on-the-spot for Philadelphia. Colorado...well, okay, two of the three could've been wins. Let's not speak of that Colorado game again.
Anyway. Take those moments away, and suddenly, New York City have ten points, and are in fourth place. Ahead of Columbus, mind, who are everyone's dark horse MLS Cup pick. Take away that late, late Philly goal in Chester -- which gave the Union their first win -- and New York City are level on points with DC, New York, and New England.
Sepp Herberger -- the immortal coach who led West Germany to their first World Cup title, and made them the most consistent team in international soccer -- had a saying:
Der Ball ist rund, damit das Spiel die Richtung ändern kann.
Translated: The ball is round, so the game can change direction.
It's often mis-translated as, "The ball is round, and the game is 90 minutes long". Maybe someone else said that. Regardless: a bounce here, a bounce there, and the game changes.
Tonight's game was bound for a scoreless draw. Then the round ball took an almighty deflection, which Josh Saunders could do nothing about, and it was scoreless no more. One point became none.
Before the season began, I made it clear: this would be a long season. This is an expansion team. Let's look at how other teams similar to New York City did. Since MLS began expanding in 2005, MLS expansion teams fabricated from thin air are a combined 325-450-287. That's the club that New York City belongs to: a club with Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA, Toronto FC, and Philadelphia Union.
There's no point in looking at how a team like Seattle did in their expansion year. They were a team already. Same with Orlando; they have an advantage that New York City don't have, in that they've been doing this for some time already. Sure, the jump from USL to MLS is tough, but Adrian Heath's been coaching there for years, the front office simply had to expand, not be created from scratch, and players were already playing together.
The only team that's managed to escape that funk from that group is RSL. They did it with Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey. New York City was lucky to get Kreis, and frankly, they should've gotten Lagerwey, but that's over and done with, and half is better than none. And who's to say that Lagerwey doesn't join New York City in time, either?
But that's for another time. The point I'm making is that if we're looking at expansion teams to look at as models for New York City, Real Salt Lake are far more prescriptive than Seattle.
In their inaugural season, RSL won only five games. They won 10 in 2006, six in '07, then 10 again in '08; enough to make the playoffs. They made the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Red Bulls (yes, we know; no, don't ask).
And in '09, despite a losing record, they made the playoffs again, this time on the Eastern Conference side. They made a run, and wound up lifting the MLS Cup after beating the LA Galaxy on penalties.
New York City have far greater resources than Salt Lake ever had. This is a team that's still getting used to playing together. But I spoke with players tonight, and to a man, they said the same thing: things are slowly coming together. It's a long season. And this is a team with one injured DP, one absent DP, and a yet-to-be-acquired DP.
Once the complete package is put together, once a lineup comes together, once the rhythm starts flowing together, this is a team that's entirely capable of making the playoffs.
And as Real Salt Lake showed six years ago, once you're in the MLS playoffs, the ball is round, so that the game can change direction.