As of 2016, Patrick Vieira is officially a Major League Soccer insider. But the New York City head coach isn't exactly drinking the MLS Kool-Aid in gulps.
"I think it's quite a little bit disappoint[ing], really, that we have to play the game knowing it is an international week," he said during this afternoon's media conference call, lamenting the fact that MLS's scheduling, in light of its non-observance of global international breaks, ends up affecting certain teams far more than others.
But Vieira is a competitor. His personal trophy case -- presumably the size of one or two Trump Towers -- proves as much. If anything, he's looking at this weekend's home tilt against New England as a welcome test of his squad's mettle.
"I have a group of 28, 29 players," he said, who will be able to take advantage of the absences of Mix Diskerud (USA), Khiry Shelton (USA Under-23's), and Ronald Matarrita (Costa Rica) as "an opportunity to show their quality... We had a really good week with players fighting for a spot in the starting XI."
On that note, I had to ask: would Stiven Mendoza, Kwadwo Poku, or perhaps Diego Martinez be major players in that fight?
"[S]ome of the players who didn't start any of the [first three] games will start the game [on Saturday], and I think it will be really good for them to show what they can do. So these players will have an opportunity to play on Saturday. I'm really pleased for them," he said, though he didn't mention those players' names directly.
Hell, I'm just going to go ahead and call it now: following a goose-egg performance at home last Friday against Orlando City, Mendoza and Poku are going to start on Saturday.
And the fans are going to weep in rapturous joy.
Is there any better home field advantage than that?
The gaffer was clear in his assertion, however, that this weekend's match against the Revs won't be all bread and roses. For the sake of his club, it can't be.
"The goals that we concede, I think it was more our mistakes than anything else," he admitted of NYCFC's recent performances. "[W]hat is important for us, I think, is to try to play well for 90, 95 minutes. The last game we played against Orlando, I believe that we played well for 80 minutes, and our first 15 minutes wasn't good at all."
Indeed, the physical attributes of this team, especially its improved pace and athleticism on the wings, are a step forward from last year. But mental lapses -- even just a bit of a slow start out of the gates, as we saw last Friday at Yankee Stadium -- continue to inflict serious blowback on this team, just as in 2015.
"I think the mistakes that we make in the first 15 minutes [are] just showing that we didn't have the right concentration and focus to play the football match, to win the football match, and that's what I was really frustrated and disappointed on," adding that an improved effort over the remainder of the 1-0 loss to Orlando City reflected the fact that this NYCFC group is not so far away from putting together a total team effort for the full 90 minutes.
Perhaps Kwadwo Poku is the prime individual personification of these mental lapses. For all his talent, physical menace, and international cult status, the Ghanaian scion's reported lack of mental focus has contributed to the kind of lackluster training performances that have kept him from making an impact on the field (or getting on the field at all).
If this is indeed the week in which Poku makes his return to the Yankee Stadium pitch -- presumably to ear-shattering fanfare -- it will likely speak volumes to the overall progress the team has made, top to bottom, in the mental phase of its game.
If Vieira has his druthers, it won't be long before we can give the Bronx Blues a new nickname:
The Cerebral Ceruleans.