Time to turn it up to eleven. With tonight's 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo, New York City's winless streak now stands at eleven games. It's the ninth-longest winless streak in league history, tied with 2005's Chivas USA and 1999's San Jose Clash. The first-year expansion team record is 14 games; the all-time record is 18.
Suffice to say that that's not the kind of history New York City wants to make. More on that in a bit. First: the game.
It was choppy. Frankly, it was boring for long, long stretches. Then it closed with a flourish. Jeb Brovsky had perhaps his best game yet; Sebastian Velasquez was somewhat effective.
For the first time all season, Jason Kreis deployed New York City in a 4-4-2 diamond. One of the critiques I've made of the team is that they've got too many of the wrong parts: overloaded in some positions (attacking midfield!) and desperately lacking in others (holding midfield! target striker!). In using his diamond, Kreis finally felt free to use his players in (mostly) their natural positions. Chris Wingert moved from center back to left back. Shay Facey moved to center back. Mix went from playing box-to-box to the tip of the diamond.
It showed on the field.
New York City started brightly. The Blues pushed and prodded, looking to take an early lead. 70 seconds in, David Villa nearly scored on a wickedly swerving ball. Later in the half, Velasquez had a nice, darting run followed by a shot. It was a marked contrast to the passivity and uncertainty on display against Real Salt Lake last week.
Then it happened again.
New York City gave up yet another early goal. That's nine goals given up in the first thirty minutes of games. In his post-game remarks, Kreis mentioned how deflated the team seemed after surrendering the goal. What happened was simple. New York City gave up a corner. In the ensuing penalty area scrum, Will Bruin just outmuscled his marker to head the ball home.
That was a running theme through the game. Houston, clearly aware that Villa is the creative spark for NYC, swarmed him at all times. That squelched any chance that the Blues had at drawing even. Then, as every other team that's played New York City during The Streak, the Dynamo made runs into space. On two occasions, they nearly scored. The key word there is "nearly".
Late in the first half, disaster struck for Houston. Off a clumsy challenge, Raul Rodriguez got called for a handball. That gave New York City a chance to draw level. David Villa took the penalty for the Blues. He was never missing this.
A late, late score always breathes confidence into a team. But for long stretches of the second half, neither New York City nor Houston were able to quite take hold of the game. Hoping for victory, Kreis made a series of substitutions: Khiry Shelton on for Velasquez, then fan favorite Kwadwo Poku on for Mehdi Ballouchy, and finally Patrick Mullins on for Adam Nemec.
Time trickles away. Then, out of nothing, a chance for New York City to win. A barnstorming run by Poku, followed by a pass resulted in this spectacular chain of events.
Yes, that was Jeb Brovsky nearly ending The Streak. Then, scarce minutes later, another chance missed, by Mullins. And finally, a third deep into stoppage time by Brovsky again. But The Streak now has a dark energy of its own. It will not be denied. For tonight, it still lives.
But a point is a point, and at the least, New York City played better.
In the immediate aftermath, three things stick out to me after tonight's match. They are:
Kreis should stick with his diamond formation going forward. This is his sixth different formation; judging from tonight, though, it should be his last fundamental tactical adjustment. The players tonight played — relatively speaking, now — more fluidly than they have in a long time. The advantage to playing the diamond is two-fold for New York City. One, it allows Kreis to put players in their natural positions, more or less. Diskerud was far more effective tonight than he has been in a long time. Two, it's what many of his players are used to playing.
Kreis mentioned in his post-game press conference that, at times, New York City seems to be over-cautious in their play. I'd wager that some of that tentativeness lies in the players' unfamiliarity with each other and with the various tactical systems Kreis has used so far, which put them in positions they're not used to playing. By using a tactical alignment that many of the starters are familar with, and that places them in familiar positions, that tentativeness should go away.
New York City need a far better target man than Adam Nemec. The Slovakian Chuck Liddell was invisible tonight. That was bad news for New York City, because it left the Dynamo free to utterly smother David Villa. Now, Nemec's had some decent games for New York City; and in fairness, this was his first game in nearly a month, since an injury suffered in a 1-0 loss to Chicago.
But Nemec's never been a scoring threat outside of Slovakia's Gambrinus Liga, or the Slovak national team. A team that now has 10 goals in 13 games needs scoring punch. Lampard will provide some of that, but surely there's got to be a target striker out there willing to come live in New York for a tidy, non-DP sum. That's got to be a secondary pickup in the rapidly approaching summer transfer window.
Kwadwo Poku will start — soon. Asked about the fan favorite by YES after the game, Kreis dropped that nugget of news. I then asked him about Tom McNamara, whom many people — myself included — feel has a ton of potential; he said that he'd start soon. Kreis elaborated that in a situation like the one New York City finds itself in, every player is going to get chances to play extensively.
There's logic behind the hype for Poku. At nearly every occasion he's played, Poku's provided a degree of menace and potency to an otherwise stagnant NYC midfield. Tonight was no different: within seconds of coming on for Ballouchy, Poku gave the Blues a jolt. He nearly set up the winner, and he was one of the few players whom Houston couldn't handle physically, absolutely ravaging their tired midfield.
Now: he's incredibly raw. That's the principal reason why Kreis hasn't started him, and has limited his minutes. But as The Streak continues, and pressure mounts, there's less reluctance to starting young players. You know what you have with your regular starters, and they haven't closed the deal. That's how the door opens to players like McNamara to replace other players.
It's time to exhaust all options. It's time for Poku.