New York City FC has suffered a bit of a downward turn over the past month, having now dropped down to third place in the East after sitting atop the conference for so long. And even after coming from behind for a much needed draw against FC Dallas the club and the fans received some more bad news:
Injury Update: Frank Lampard sidelined with calf strain https://t.co/D4IRvvLaLR— New York City FC (@NYCFC) September 19, 2016
NYCFC will be without Frank Lampard for a critical stretch to close out the season, with the club seeking to secure a first round bye by finishing either first or second in the East. To call this a huge blow would be an understatement. Lampard currently sits second on the team in goals, scoring all 12 of them in his last 14 games played. Not only has he been on a torrid pace, he’s been the club’s primary goal scorer over this span, and has proven to be a leader for the club on and off the pitch. His late game heroics helped secure a vital come from behind win against D.C. United, the club’s first comeback win this season. Losing Lampard at this point in the season is no less than a gut punch to the team and its fans alike.
So, how will the Pigeons try to make up for the loss of Lampard?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that you can’t completely make up for the loss of what Lampard brings to this club. For one, there just isn’t a like for like player on the team right now that imitates his playing style. The real question, then, is who is in the best position to excel if moved into the central midfield?
In game against FC Dallas, once Lampard came off the pitch injured, Tommy McNamara was dropped down into midfield, with Steven Mendoza taking his place on the left wing. And when asked about replacing Lampard in central midfield during training this week, Vieira alluded to the idea that McNamara, or even Jack Harrison, could start there again.
Given that he was the player who dropped into that position during the FC Dallas game, and remembering that he played there earlier this season, it makes the most sense for McNamara to step into the central midfield role in Lampard’s absence, with either Mendoza or Khiry Shelton, who’s continued he resurgence with another influential sub appearance versus FC Dallas, taking McNamara’s place on the wing.
What should we expect from McNamara filling in for Lampard? He has, for all intents and purposes, acted as the club’s “No. 10” attacking midfield creator this season. He started the season alongside Mix Diskerud and Andrea Pirlo as a central midfielder in the 4-3-3 when they kicked the season off against this Friday’s opponent, the Chicago Fire. And he continued there for the first month or so as Vieira experimented with the “WM” (3-2-2-3).
Due to a lack of production from other players and a string of unsatisfactory results early on, Vieira moved McNamara out on the wing to provide more defense in the midfield, while still keep his attacking prowess in the starting XI. In both positions, though, McNamara has used his understanding of space and positioning to provide service for his teammates and pop into spots where he can put a dangerous shot on frame, as evidence by his 5 goals and 9 assists on the season. And while his long range blasts have earned the headlines, he’s also known for poking home some shifty goals in the box as well:
#McNamaradona will have to do more of that to fill the scoring void that comes with missing Lampard over the next month or so. But, it can’t fall on McNamara’s shoulders alone. For one, we have to remind ourselves that his 5 goals this season tie for the career high he set last year. To ask him to be come a prolific goal scorer at this point may be too tall of a burden. And two, McNamara is much more of a creator and playmaker than he is a scorer. McNamara will get in the right spots, not so much to get himself a shot, but in order to make the right play for the team. That means he will be creating chances for his teammates, and the likes of Villa, Harrison, Shelton and Mendoza will have to make good on the chances he is creating for them as well.
Losing Lampard is definitely a critical blow this team at the worst point of time in the season. That much no one can deny. But the one thing to remember with this team is that it is deep, especially in midfield. Patrick Vieira is not without his options, both offensively and defensively, when it comes to putting together a Starting XI. We’ll all just have to wait anxiously to see how the team weathers the storm to close out the regular season. If the team can somehow still secure one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference, and Lampard can come back fit and firing more goals in the back of the net, New York City FC’s chances at MLS Cup will be as good as any other’s, maybe even better than most.