These days, New York's newest team can't catch a break.
If anything, they've been the ones breaking.
A devastating home loss to an unspectacular Columbus Crew team. Fans getting stun-gunned in the chest on the Yankee Stadium concourse. Didier Drogba's seemingly effortless natural hat trick for playoff rivals Montreal.
If Jason Kreis is thinking of a Jay-Z song right now, the smart money is on "Can I Live."
And yet, life goes on. This weekend, Kreis & Co. touch down in North Texas in desperate need of a result against an accomplished FC Dallas side: their overall record (44 points) trails just Vancouver and Los Angeles at the top of the league.
The longtime rap on FC Dallas focused on their ability to start the year strong only to fall back to earth. These days, gaffer Oscar Pareja may be cracking the code. After missing out on the playoffs in 2012 and '13, the cowpokes made the Western Conference Finals last season, riding into the current year with the wind at their backs. What's Pareja's secret? Well, he's downright unafraid. Last Saturday in Columbus, the Texans blanked Crew SC to the tune of 3-0 with a starting XI that included five homegrown players in midfield. Five! That's a league record for one game.
(I can hear the NYCFC fans' puzzlement: "What's a homegrown player???")
One of those homegrowns, rookie goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, looks to be a key factor once again. The North Carolina native and Mexico Under-20 netminder has allowed just one goal in three MLS starts in place of the injured Dan Kennedy. Behind a potent attack led by Colombian burner Fabian Castillo, who leads Dallas in goals (9) and assists (6), Gonzalez enters the match with confidence to spare.
For the visitors, for better or for worse, all eyes are once again on Frank Lampard, whose Q-factor among New York City fans is hovering somewhere between "Ebola" and "police taser." The conventional wisdom suggests that Super Phranq will once again start at the top of the midfield, where neither he nor anyone else has been remotely able to approach the hard-driving productivity of Kwadwo Poku.
Lampard is under pressure to answer the very public challenge Jason Kreis issued to a few unnamed players following the 2-1 home defeat to Columbus on August 29th. Let's be, well, frank (sorry, I know.) -- since Adam "The Itch" Nemec agreed to dissolve his contract with NYCFC and disappear, nobody needs a goal and the general relief that comes with it more than Lamps.
So, why not Saturday night? After a much-needed week off, Lampard and the coaching staff can't play the injury card anymore. The fans won't accept it this late in the season. No, sir. As Magic Johnson said, there's a time to play and there's a time to win.
With Jason Kreis's trademark "stoic face" growing more scowling and nihilistic with each passing day, it's time to win one for the gaffer.
QUESTIONABLE: Mauro Diaz (right quad tightness), Dan Kennedy (right knee strain), Bakary Soumare (concussion symptoms)
New York City:
OUT: Andoni Iraola (gastrocnemius strain)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
New York City:
RUNNIN' THE NUMBERS
- 91: League goals scored by NYC manager Jason Kreis during his eight seasons with Dallas. He led the team in scoring five times, topping out at 18 goals in 1999.
- 3: NYCFC players who have logged more than 2,000 minutes this year-- David Villa (2040), Andrew Jacobson (2223), and Josh Saunders (2340).
- 167: Minutes played this year by Frank Lampard.
- 4: Goals in the last six games for Dallas attacker Michael Barrios, who didn't log ninety minutes in a single game until July 26th.
- 16: Advantage in goal differential for FC Dallas (+8) over New York City (-8).
PUT UP OR SHUT UP.