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Five players to watch for in 2018

As we look toward next season, these five players will be vital to New York City FC’s success.

MLS: Portland Timbers at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

As of right now, the immediate future of New York City FC remains an enigma, as the team has yet to announce its roster options for the 2018 MLS season. We still don’t know for sure who’s in, who’s out, or what the team may look like when it’s all said and done.

But that won’t stop us from speculating about who will make the biggest impact in 2018. For simplicity’s sake, only players who are currently on the team and are expected to be back next season were considered. Sorry, boys and girls. Yaya Toure is not on this list.

Andraz Struna

After arriving late into the 2017 season, Slovenian right back Andraz Struna was quick to make an impact. In seven total appearances — which include the two postseason games against Columbus Crew — Struna contributed both an assist and a goal from the back. Adept at dribbling and defending alike, Struna could be Patrick Vieira’s first choice right back moving forward given RJ Allen’s inconsistency and Ethan White’s struggles with fitness.

Jonathan Lewis

With former no. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick Jack Harrison reportedly being vehemently pursued by Premier League clubs, the time for Jonathan Lewis to shine may very well be on the horizon. While the 20-year-old winger out of Akron was limited in his appearances throughout his 2017 rookie season after being drafted third overall by the Boys in Blue, he always exuded confidence and raw talent while on the flank. In his 11 appearances this year, Lewis contributed two goals and an assist. And there is little reason to believe that he can’t add onto that total in 2018.

Alex Callens

NYCFC’s ironman Alex Callens played every minute of every game at the left center back position until being sent off for a red card in the 4-1 defeat at the hands of Columbus in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. And you’d be crazy to think that Patrick Vieira won’t ask the same of him come 2018. Callens plays with a grit and awareness that is rare among MLS defenders and played a massive role in transforming New York City’s defense from one of the worst in the league to one of the very best. Such talent and potential is sure to grab the attention of European clubs, so City better appreciate him and use him to best of his abilities while they still can.

James Sands

In addition to being the club’s first-ever Homegrown Player, midfielder James Sands — at the tender age of 17 — is also the youngest NYCFC signing in their short history and is undoubtedly being groomed to be the future of New York soccer. While the likes of Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring, as well as an increasingly demanding schedule with the United States U17 team, limited him to only one official appearance with the first team this year, the hype surrounding Sands has continued to grow. Despite the fact that Ring is most likely to continue carrying the torch in the defensive midfield throughout 2018, it isn’t far-fetched to think that the Sandman can receive a significant bump in minutes in his second professional season.

David Villa

Now, we all expected this name to show up, right? There is no other way to put it: David Villa is the man for NYCFC. In his 94 total appearances since 2015, he’s netted 63 goals en route to becoming one of, if not the biggest scoring threat in all of MLS and is sure to live on in New York City lore long after his time in the Bronx comes to an end. That being said, there are some concerns. In February — one month before the 2018 MLS season begins — Villa will be turning 36. Yes, age is just a number. And yes, form is temporary and class is permanent. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that Father Time is undefeated. The inaugural NYCFC captain is contracted for at least one more season with the Boys in Blue and recently expressed his desire to stay in New York. However, one can only ponder as to whether the luminous light that is El Guaje will go out with a bang or tragically fade to black.

Do you agree with our list? Is there anyone you think we missed? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments!