New York City FC lacked many things in its inaugural season. However, attacking talent was not one of them. The defense was incredibly porous most of the season, and the midfield was never able to instill the possession-oriented style that had made Jason Kreis so successful during his tenure with Real Salt Lake.
Defensively, the team is still very much a work in progress, with NYCFC being linked to Standard Liege center-back, Jorge Texeira, as well as Ronald Matarrita, a Left-back for Alajuenlense. In addition, the SuperDraft is scheduled to take place on January 14th. Odds are NYCFC will address the defense with its only pick in the draft, meaning the defense will look drastically different when the season kicks off.
The key cog for the team has to be the midfield, where the majority of the talent of this team lies. However, Patrick Vieira will have to create a midfield that will fight on two fronts. It will need to please both stylistically and in terms of results. City Football Group has made this a major goal for the team. NYCFC must play the "City Way", which means playing attractive and attacking football.
So the question that begs to be asked is: How does Patrick Vieira go about balancing style vs. results?
Jason Kreis was one of the bright young minds in Major League Soccer, and even he looked clueless in determining how to piece together this midfield. Kreis did not put his players in a position to succeed, as he played them out of position for most of the season. Mix Diskerud was being played on the left-wing, Kwadwo Poku, while raw, had enough quality to justify a place in the starting XI , and Andrew Jacobson was asked to play as a true D-Mid, even though he had no prior experience there.
Vieira will hopefully be able to put his players into a position that will maximize their individual strengths.
Here is my starting XI based on how the roster is currently constructed.
Andrea Pirlo is a world-class deep-lying playmaker, but he needs someone to shield him. Mix Diskerud has played this position with the USNMT, with varying degrees of success. He has all the skills to be a quality deep-lying playmaker. Both players have the vision to hit a ball in behind the defense, and they both have the skill sets to dictate the tempo of the game from the midfield. All of this adds up to NYCFC seeing more of the ball, and shielding an under-talented defense.
While Kwadwo Poku hasn't lined up as a wide midfielder on many occasions, he has all the tools to do so. He has the pace, as well as the technical quality to beat a defender off the dribble. In addition, he has the awareness to hit killer final pass, as evidence of his assist count (even with limited playing time). Similarly to LA Galaxy midfielder, Sebastian Lleget, Poku should start in a wide position, but have the freedom to cut inside to score himself, or find his teammates.
This goal demonstrates Poku's work rate, as well as his ability to cut in from a wide position and pick out the killer pass.
Shelton, after often being played as a forward will be able to play his true position as an out and out winger (where he was an All-American at Oregon State).
The final piece in the midfield puzzle is Frank Lampard. Playing as a true playmaker/second striker, he will be able to support David Villa by providing the final ball, making himself available for a pass in order to keep possession, unleashing shots from distance, or crashing the box.
In order the play an attractive style of football, the team needs to field its most technically gifted players. Midfielders Tommy McNamara, and Andrew Jacobson simply do not have the technical prowess to be in the starting XI day in, and day out. They are both effective role players, but probably not much more than that.
With this starting XI, the bench still has some impact substitutes. Patrick Mullins, Mehdi Ballouchy, Jacobson, and McNamara all still have enough quality to take on tired defenses and make an impact.
Pleasing City Football Group will be no easy task. They require both results, and attractive football. By putting players in position to maximize their strengths, Patrick Vieira might be able to deliver just that.