As they say, next year is now. With some distance from -- and perspective on -- last year, here's my wish list for the coming season.
1. A playoff berth. Obviously, before this team becomes a perennial contender, this is the golden ring. It's the biggest goal the team failed to achieve in its first year, and what (ostensibly, at least) cost coach Jason Kreis his job. How far we'd get in the playoffs is anyone's guess, and at that time of year, pretty much anything can happen. But getting in is essential. Being in the top half of our conference really isn't too much to ask, considering all of the talent on the team, and the big money that has been spent on it.
2. More consistent play, from a more consistent lineup. NYCFC wasn't just one team last year, it was many, thanks to injuries, a pretty constant influx of new arrivals, and inconsistent play. From one game to the next, it was hard to tell which version of the team was going to show up. Right when things seemed like they were starting to come together, the personnel changed dramatically, and the chemistry evaporated. This year, having Pirlo and Lampard from the beginning of the season should help, as should some of our new offseason acquisitions.
3. Better defense. With the exception of a few bright spots, our defense last year was truly a mess. Which goalie had more shots taken on him than any other in MLS last year? You guessed it: Josh Saunders. He saved more than 65 percent of the 188 shots taken by our opponents, a league-leading 123 saves. With a less able goalie, we almost certainly would have ended up at the bottom of the table. Angelino and Facey will be missed, by me at least, but I was all too ready to say goodbye to Watson-Siriboe, and I've been disappointed with Iraola and Mena. Let's hope Brilliant, Martinez, White, and especially the much-hyped Matarrita are more solid.
4. Offensive Excitement. One thing that baffled me about Kreis was how he'd only sparingly play Poku, in spite of Poku's impressive ability to energetically and entertainingly intimidate the opposition and create offensive opportunities. Strangely, Kreis seemed to favor him less than other players who failed to contribute anywhere near as much (Grabavoy, for example). When large numbers of fans at home matches had to chant "We Want Poku!" for extended periods of time to encourage Kreis to put him on the field, something was clearly very wrong. If Poku was just a fan favorite and wasn't producing as well as Kreis's regular starters, then his choice might make sense, but that wasn't the case. Instead, we sat through endless hours of slow, plodding play. Often, it felt like Villa was alone in pushing forward, as Pirlo got knocked to the ground by much younger players, Mix ran in circles and lost possession, and Taylor and Shelton sat injured on the sideline. Hopefully, Harrison will add more energy to the mix and complement Villa's efforts.
5. At least one win against the Red Bulls. Though it was a relief that the Red Bulls didn't win the MLS Cup --and gratifying to see that even in the playoffs, they couldn't reliably fill their 25,189 seats -- the fact remains that we were swept by our arch-rivals in season one. While I certainly don't love hosting the Red Bulls, the fact that we have two home games against them this season should help us bring home at least one win. Winning any regular season game is important, but let's face it: emotionally, some games are much more important than others.
6. Better treatment of the fans by Securitas. The stories about Securitas last year were nothing short of bizarre. For God's sake, we're the paying customers of this team, not a bunch of criminals. We have enough to worry about on the field, with our team's (so far) mediocre performance. We shouldn't have to worry about being harassed, bullied, and ejected from games, too. Fan excitement is important, and attractive. It's what's going to make support for this team (and attendance numbers) grow. The Yankee Stadium staff should respect and nurture that excitement, not try to shut it down.
7. Attendance that matches (or exceeds) 2015's. With a very respectable average attendance of 29,016 in our first season -- third in the league, and more than the number of seats in Red Bull Arena -- NYCFC proved there's real hunger for soccer in the five boroughs, a hunger the Red Bulls haven't satisfied. With 20,000 season ticket holders signed on for 2015, our great attendance numbers seem likely to continue, assuming a large proportion of those people have renewed, but we need to do even better. So long as we're in a stadium that accommodates more than 54,000, and our ticket prices remain as reasonable as they are now, there's no reason we shouldn't. If you're reading this, you're probably a big fan of the team, and assuming you do attend games in-person, please do your part by telling your friends, relatives, and acquaintances how much fun it is to be there, and encourage them to join you.
8. More respect and attention for the team, especially by the media. Last season, I was shocked by how much the media either ignored or criticized NYCFC. Have they noticed that our average attendance exceeds the number of seats at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center? Yet the Knicks, the Rangers, the Nets, and the Islanders aren't ignored in the same way, no matter how poorly they play. I'm aware that NYCFC was middling at best, and that soccer generally continues to fail to receive the respect it deserves, but there's really no excuse for the lack of coverage, considering the number of people following the team. Our attendance figures justify a lot more attention.
9. Announcement of a concrete location, plan, and timeline for a stadium, in the five boroughs. Last, but certainly not least, we need a stadium of our own. This will help address the previous three items on my list. With our own, new home, we'll be more visible, harder to ignore, and more likely to attract new fans. Plus, our problems with Securitas will almost certainly disappear. Needless to say, due to the identity of this team from the get-go, the stadium has to be located somewhere in the five boroughs, and for most people who travel to games by public transportation, a location in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx would be best.
What have I missed on this list that you'd like to see from NYCFC in 2016? Comment below to let me know.