Since the day he was drafted by New York City FC, Khiry Shelton has been hot button talking point for fans of the Boys in Blue. So many of us see the height, the speed, the pure athleticism and can’t help but be tantalized at what he can do. But his inexperience and injuries derailed much of his rookie season. He only played about half the year, and finished with just one goal and one assist. What made it even more disheartening was NYCFC fans seeing Cyle Larin — picked right before Shelton in the 2015 SuperDraft — put together a historic rookie season for Orlando City SC.
But a funny thing happened to Khiry last season...he got better. It wasn’t a linear path to progression for the young winger, however. After beginning the season as a regular fixture in the Starting XI, Shelton’s lack of production and immaturity saw him on the outside looking in on Patrick Vieira’s best 18 by mid-season. As we know, of course, it was not time to give up on Khiry.
The player responded to Vieira’s tough love, working his way back into the 18 and reinserting himself into the team as a first-choice supersub. The results? A much more productive season for Khiry with more playing time and more production— he finished the 2016 campaign with 4 goals and 9 assists (tied for second on club behind Andrea Pirlo). And as the season began to near its end, we saw a real boost in Shelton’s confidence and attacking edge in front of goal.
The biggest takeaway from this goal is that it’s a position we saw Khiry get into so many times before — getting into open space, breaking away from the defense — but had consistently returned zero end product. This time? A cool, calm, collected finish into the bottom left corner with his strong foot. It’s the type of goal you’ve seen wingers like Fabian Castillo and David Accam score countless times. Khiry proved he can be a playmaker last season, but he also started hinting to us the fact he may be a much improved finisher as well. And that second part is key to 2017.
With Frank Lampard gone, goals will be a much-needed commodity from the rest of the team. Now, no one could expect one person, especially younger players like Shelton or even Jack Harrison, to make up Lampard’s scoring load on their own. I think it’s more than fair, however, to look for Shelton to improve once again on his numbers from last season and become an even bigger contributor in Patrick Vieira’s high-scoring attack. Entering his third season in MLS, Shelton has all the tools to put together a 10 goal, 10 assist season for the City Blue in 2017.
Is that too ambitious? It very well might be. Just like year, Shelton’s spot on the team is not guaranteed. With a litany of attacking talent, he will have to compete hard just to make the 18, let alone the Starting XI, and Vieira is adamant about going with the players he feel have impressed the most each week in training. But I believe Shelton has learned what it takes to shine in Vieira’s system - which could give him a leg up on some of the newer members on the club.
Slowly but surely, “K19” is becoming an elder statesman in terms of tenure with the team. It’s highly encouraging to see how he’s grown in the NYCFC shirt, and 2017 is poised to see him take another step forward.