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A March progress report for New York City FC

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Patrick Vieira's boys have played four games. Here's what we know about them so far.

William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Thank the Soccer Gods for small sample sizes.

Indeed, New York City FC's season is just 4 games old-- that's but a scant 11.76% of the full 34 game season, which means that whatever conclusions we draw from the team's performances so far, we can't let ourselves get bogged down in statistics; the sample simply hasn't got enough data points to run with yet.

For an occasionally baffling NYCFC side sitting at 1-1-2 on the year, that's a convenient truth.

So, for today's NYCFC Progress Report (the first of many this year), we're putting the numbers aside and sticking with what we've seen with our own two eyes.

Let's get to it:

  • This team utterly lacks a killer instinct in the final third.

The numbers will tell you that New York City is taking a buttload of possession and converting very few chances. But the stats fail to illuminate matters of intent. Of initiative. And that, more specifically, is where NYCFC is failing. Whether through Khiry Shelton's wasteful touches on the right flank or David Villa's desperate do-it-yourself gusto coming in from the left, one thing rings clear: this team has very little trouble building up play and getting the ball into the box, but it sorely lacks that one final, cutting run by an aggressor just itching to fire a shot on frame.

Interestingly enough, this kind of much-needed, well-timed attacking run into the box is a particular strength of Frank Lampard, NYCFC's absentee father. Whether his inclusion into Vieira's XI wreaks apocalypse-level destruction on the team's already-shaky defending, however, is a different question (assuming he ever comes back at all).

  • You can't put a price on all the "dirty work" Ronald Matarrita and Federico Bravo are doing.

Despite our unreserved excitement over Stiven "NoDoz" Mendoza's potential for explosive, kinetic exploits, there is no question that Mata and Fede have been the team's top newcomers.

Their willingness to engage in the kind of tough custodial work in the defensive third that occasionally goes unnoticed -- keeping the heat off Andrea Pirlo, closing out opposition before lethal chances have a chance to materialize, providing essential linking play between the back line and the attack -- has already gone a long way in justifying their acquisitions. In fact, with Matarrita away on international duty for Saturday's 1-1 draw against New England, Bravo assumed even greater responsibilities, especially on the ball. Unfortunately, until the willing Diego Martinez mercifully relieved the pathetic, entirely instinct-free Jefferson Mena a half our into the game, Matarrita's absence denied Andrea Pirlo the breathing room to be an effective playmaker, and New York City was limited as a result.

MLSToW

Hey, Fede made the team of the week! (Major League Soccer)

  • Kwadwo Poku, without a doubt, is not ready to start for this team.

The passes Poku actually attempted on Saturday were converted at a favorable rate. Unfortunately, the Slayin' Ghanaian eschewed far too many opportunities to pass the ball at all in buildup play, deciding instead to rely on his strength and pace on the ball in isolation. Like an NBA player who insists on beating guys off the dribble instead of spacing the floor -- which is literally how you win in a sport with fluid possession -- this is just bad, bad news.

In a word, it's schoolyard stuff. Street ball stuff. As a result of his lone wolf attitude with the rock at his feet, Poku wore himself down and utterly disappeared, requiring a 77th minute substitution that, in retrospect, ought to have come sooner. The stats will tell you that Poku didn't lose possession as many times as, say, Diego Fagundez, but Fagundez was a consistent threat, and was a coherent part of his team's overall gameplan. He wouldn't dare freelance. Poku? Different story.

For better or (mostly) for worse, we saw the exact same weaknesses from Poku that we've always seen: an inability to manage stamina and an over-reliance on "iso" situations, both of which reflect the lack of focus and team-first play that put the young scion in Jason Kreis's doghouse last season.

  • A full offseason did Andoni Iraola a world of good.

The same can be said for Pirlo, but his standout performances were fully expected this year, whereas skepticism continued to swirl around Iraola. Rather pleasingly, the former Atheltic Bilbao skipper bounced back from injury March 18th against Orlando City and hit the ground running. Quite simply, his head is in the game in ways that it just wasn't last year. Did you see that backheel to help set up Villa's crossbar-cracker and Tommy McNamara's subsequent goal on Saturday? Of course you did.

Broh, that was dank.

Out of his depth on the right side of the defense, Ethan White got his lunch eaten by David Accam & Co. in NYCFC's season opener in Bridgeview. Getting forward, Ronald Matarrita looked to be the only man capable of any manner of overlapping run. With Iraola back in the fold, the right half of the pitch -- the one that doesn't feature Tommy McNamara or David Villa -- has finally started to show some flex.

  • Josh Saunders just looks uncomfortable between the sticks.

Yes, this has lot of this has to do with the continuing headache that is the ever-shifting New York City back line. Yes, it's related to Saunders's lack of confidence building up play systematically from the back. Batting the ball right into Cyle Larin's face for the lone goal in March 18th's home loss to Orlando City didn't help, either. But really, there isn't much analysis required-- the veteran netminder's days are numbered as New York City's #1 if results don't improve. Does Eirik Johansen amount to a clear improvement? Totally unclear. But when it comes to Saunders, the eye don't lie.

Which conclusions are you ready to draw after four games? Sound off, Five Boroughs-- the comments are yours.