For a team that only won 10 games during the 2015 season, New York City FC ranked sixth in the league in goals with 49. They also had the most penalty goals, converting eight of nine attempts from the spot (thanks, Guaje).
However, it’s quality over quantity in MLS: the Portland Timbers scored the third fewest goals in the league last season, but went on to win the MLS Cup. If they weren’t scoring goals, what was their secret? Portland won by a score of 1-0 six times last season, one of which was against NYC, and five of their eight ties ended 0-0. While New York City drew seven times, they tended to lose close games and give up leads, and the offense could only do so much.
After the defensive disaster that was last season, there was nowhere to go but up. The additions of likely starters Frédéric Brillant, Ethan White, and Rónald Matarrita will bolster the back line and save the forwards from having to salvage games that the defense threw away. Last season, this was commonplace —NYCFC scored 17 goals, 35 percent of the season total, in final 15 minutes of matches, which was very entertaining but also terrible for our health. With the overhaul of the defense, hopefully that will happen less in 2016.
So, how will the NYCFC forwards perform in the second season? Let’s take a look.
NYCFC sends a sincere and smug thank you to the New England Revolution for their foolish decision to give up Mullins in the 2014 Expansion Draft. Mullins was New York’s second-best scorer during 2015, contributing quality goals and exhibiting play-making talent. Although he started only 11 games last season, his skills allowed him to quickly make an impact when coming on as a substitute. He combined well with David Villa, most memorably when he scored in the home opener a little over a year ago.
Mullins and Villa each scored two goals during the preseason, and both of Mullins’ were the game-winners in 1-0 wins. He must know the aforementioned 1-0 win agenda. His six-goal tally last season is an improvement from his first MLS season, during which he scored four with New England. As a senior at the University of Maryland, he led the country in scoring with 19 goals and was awarded the Hermann Trophy as the best player in America. With more minutes this season, Mullins is entirely capable of bringing his goal total up to 10. This seemingly small increase would be hugely important for New York’s offense.
After being chosen second overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, Shelton unfortunately missed much of the 2015 MLS season due to a left MCL injury. It’s easy to see why New York City drafted him: during his senior season at Oregon State University, Shelton had 10 goals and 12 assists, was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and led the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
Shelton is known for his remarkable speed and the spark he adds offensively, although that seemed to be lacking once he returned from his injury. He was plagued by injuries during his first three years of college, a history which made this one a disheartening reoccurrence. On the other hand, his ability to persevere through them shows his commitment and work ethic. Now that he’s healthy, and with a preseason goal already squared away, Shelton should have a boost of confidence carrying him into the regular season.
In his first start for NYCFC on April 19, Taylor gruesomely tore his ACL and suffered LCL damage, an injury that would sideline him for the entire 2015 season. Taylor played short stints for European clubs in Portugal and Cyprus before joining the Revs in 2014, playing in only one game for them. He has only played 75 total minutes in MLS, leaving what we should expect from him a bit of a mystery.
With his injuries behind him, though, he looked great in the preseason, creating a quality scoring chance for Villa during the game against Montreal. He and Shelton played on both wings with Villa centering them, showing the players’ versatility and Patrick Vieira’s willingness to alternate roles. Judging by his performance during the preseason, and this goal from last year’s preseason, Taylor provides another solid young attacking option Vieira can turn to. After the brief Adam Nemec nightmare of last season — remember that? — I welcome anyone with speed and skill on the ball with open arms.
Oh captain, our captain! Where would we be without him?
Villa scored 18 goals last season, the fourth most in the league, plus two during his preseason stint with Melbourne City FC. He was involved in 53 percent of NYCFC’s goals. Scoring goals is in his blood. In fact, last season’s tally was his highest since his brilliant 2010-2011 campaign when he scored 22 with FC Barcelona. Say what you will about the quality of play in La Liga v. MLS, scoring 18 goals at age 33 is impressive no matter what. Speaking of which, he doesn’t look to be slowing down, and what he may have lost in pace he more than makes up for in pure goal-scoring talent. Robbie Keane is 35 and outscored Villa by two goals, so age is really just a number.
(Perhaps I’m slightly in denial about Villa being 34. Only slightly, though).
Now that Taylor and Shelton are both healthy, Villa can rely on them both to contribute more offensive minutes and take some of the pressure off of him. For a world-class striker, the pressure to score is nothing new, but Villa also thrives when playing alongside other talented forwards and is more than willing to provide assists. His combination of humility and skill is what makes him so extraordinary.
Barring injury, Villa should score just as many goals this season, if not more. Now that the core of the squad has spent the majority of a season plus the preseason together, a level of familiarity should be developing, and that will translate to better communication and performance on the field. Villa and the other forwards will reap the benefits of an improved and more comfortable midfield. Minus Frank Lampard, who apparently hasn’t been training and should probably just be launched into the sun at this point.
But I digress — let’s think about this great moment and get excited for Sunday. Who do you think will emerge as our second great goal-scorer?