It’s no secret here at HRB that the club stinks when it comes to its regional rivalry matches. After losing all possible points last season versus the New York Red Bulls and New York Cosmos, the team has started this season once again following that trend. Recently, the team lost (once again) to NASL side New York Cosmos in the U.S. Open Cup. And of course there’s the Red Massacre that can’t be expunged from our brains quickly enough. As improved as the club has looked this season, these improvements still seem hollow to fans as long as they continue to lose to their cross-river rivals.
Fans are looking, more than anything else, to see some fight from the Boys in Blue. They want to see that these games matter to them, that they're not going to let their rivals dictate the physicality of the match. Tactically speaking, though, the team needs to see more aggressive play in the final third against the Red Bulls. David Villa, our avatar, has been for the most part left on islands in matches against the Red Bulls. Playing through the back has played into the oppositions hands, and the fear of the counter attack has left Villa alone in front of goal to create something out of thin air. The results have led to him being "bottled up" as it were and he has still not yet put his stamp on this budding rivalry.
But, following that deflating loss, New York City FC has gone through a bit of a mid-season renaissance. By way of players returning from injury, players being sidelined by injury, and Vieira’s poking and prodding to maximize this club’s potential we have seen several key changes to the lineup in the last few weeks. Andoni Iraola has looked solid if not great in his new role as defensive midfielder. Frank Lampard has also returned to fitness, has started the last two matches, and has even scored goals. And despite the tragic loss, City sits second place in the Eastern Conference at this point in time.
What may be the biggest change for the club, however, is the inclusion of Jack Harrison as a regular fixture in the Starting XI. Vieira has tinkered with his wing players habitually throughout this season. What started off as a duo of Tony Taylor and Khiry Shelton, has constantly continued to evolve trying out other players like Steven Mendoza, Tommy McNamara, and even Kwadwo Poku in these wing slots. The results have been very mixed outside of McNamara’s consistent smart runs and effective link-up with David Villa. But the team needed more. For all of McNamara’s strengths he’s not a pacey player nor is he strong on the ball to keep defenders at bay. That’s where Jack Harrison sets himself apart:
Harrison plays with a speed, strength, technical ability, and intelligence that has been lacking in New York’s front three all season. The effort is clear from Harrison in this play. He wins back a ball from Villa’s first touch, bursts through the opposing defense, fights off a defender while leaving a clever back heel pass for Villa to finish. Harrison has only appeared in 4 matches so far (3 starts, and 1 sub appearance), but already has made an impact, scoring a goal and tallying that beautiful back-heel assist to Villa. His talent is evident and it’s clear why Reyna and the club pulled out all the stops to acquire him.
This level of aggression is what Vieira has been seeking from his wingers all season long. That bite and hunger for a goal has been lacking all to often at times for NYCFC. Now with McNamara also on the left wing, NYCFC’s attack has looked it’s most threatening in dare I say its entire brief history. Why’s that? Well let’s refer back to the coach’s words:
"It is frustrating but that is what we need to create as a football club. Humility, working hard and giving everything. I think we didn’t show it tonight, we didn’t show it the last few games we’ve played and if you don’t show it, you have to be monsieur Ronaldo to have the quality to do it. If you don’t have the quality to do it, you have to keep the game simple and be humble and work hard for the team. When we don’t do it, we don’t have any chance to win games."
When you look at the roster, and think of players who work hard and keep the game simple, you’ll find no other players who fit that mold better than McNamara and Harrison. And for all of his world-class talent, David Villa is also the hardest working player New York City FC has, and wears the armband for that very reason. He also expects the same from his teammates. And finally, it seems, Vieira has found two players he can pair with Villa up top who share his work-rate and willingness to put in the hard work for the team.
Barring injury, Harrison should be expected to start this Sunday versus the New York Red Bulls. Harrison got a small taste of the experience in the club’s 0-7 defeat, coming in as a late sub. Now we will see the full Jack Harrison tool kit on display versus the cross-river rivals. His speed, technical ability, and aggressiveness will be a welcomed addition versus a club that has to date been able to impose their will physically against our Boys in Blue. Here’s hoping it leads to the club’s first result against a local rival.