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Patrick Vieira: NYCFC’s roster “much better than it was last year”

After they led the league in goals scored in 2016, the gaffer expects more from the Boys in Blue in his second campaign.

MLS: New York City FC Patrick Vieira-Press Conference Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After a famous playoff flameout on a 7-0 aggregate at the hands of the eventual Eastern Conference champions from Toronto, there wasn’t much for New York City FC fans to feel quite really pleased about. Such a humbling exeunt felt like regression for the Bronx Blues, who had barely begun to look as if they were building something real in the Five Boroughs.

What on earth is the solution for NYCFC’s defense? Who’s going to pick up the goal-scoring slack for Frank Lampard?

Count gaffer Patrick Vieira among those who are aren’t concerned about the future in the least.

“Last year was a good season, but it wasn’t good enough for us as a football club and what we wanted to achieve,” Vieira said on Thursday’s media conference call. “I think the team is much stronger than it was last year, the roster is much better than it was last year. We have a young group with a lot of strength, a lot of quality.”

As he continued: “We have better players overall. I think [that] last year, we didn't have so many choices. I think this year there will be more competitiveness between the players. We have two or three really good players in each position.”

“If you want to play, you have to be at your best.”

The Elder Statesmen

When asked about the outlook for reigning league MVP David Villa, who turned 35 in December, and wizardly midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who turns 38 in three months, Vieira sounded as bullish as ever.

“For me, he’s getting younger,” the manager said of Villa. “When I see him like I see him this morning in training, he still has the same passion. David is going to be a massive success for us for the next few years because of the quality, but I will say just because of the love and the passion he’s got for the game.”

The same goes for Pirlo, whose graceful style of play remains largely unchanged from his younger, beardless days in Italy. Would it be wrong to think that il Maestro could play until he’s 45?

“Regarding Andrea, you know what, I’m not worried at all,” Vieira said. “You have to be in training to look at the desire to compete. You have to be on the field. Age is just a number.”

James of Persia: The Time of Sands

No hotter topic emerged over the course of the preseason than !!!JAMES SANDS!!!, the 16 year old holding midfielder and NYCFC Academy kid. While we have no real indications as to whether or not the kid is due for a professional contract, it’s worth noting that serious questions remain — still! after two years! — about the defensive midfield role.

Vieira, who once said that the youngster has the mind of a 30 year old, chose to pump the brakes for the time being.

“We are really pleased to have a young, talented player in our football club. We need to think carefully about how can we help him develop, and what is the best next step for him. That is a discussion that we are having every single day,” he said of Sands. “We know that he will be really busy next year with the Under-17 World Cup, and then we are going to try to make the right decision to help him develop himself.”

“He is somebody that I like a lot. We’re gonna have a good plan for him.”

Check Your Six

Sands is just one of a handful of potential options for the full-time number six position at the base of the midfield. Shielding Andrea Pirlo, as well as the diminutive Maxi Moralez, will be an essential job in 2017, as well as providing a ball-playing outlet tucked in front of the center backs to better realize Vieira’s preferred build-from-the-back playing style.

The opening day of the regular season may be mere days away, but NYCFC isn’t ready to commit to a six just yet.

“I have a few players who are capable of playing in that position, and obviously it is quite a bit difficult because of players arriving quite really late,” he said, referring to the visa issues encountered by new signing Alexander Ring and loanee Yangel Herrera.

“Physically, they are not all on the same level. I think after the game [against Sporting KC] on Saturday I can really give you a few names, but at the moment, it is a bit too early.”

Parting Shots

  • On new designated player Maxi Moralez: He’s gonna be really good for us. He will bring us something different that we really didn’t have last year. He’s really smart; his position is quite really good between the lines. I have different options, but I personally believe that his best position is central.”
  • On NYCFC’s defensive woes extending beyond the back four:We will be better this year as a defensive unit, but my main focus is still, as a team, how can we defend better from up front, and I strongly believe that is how we have to prove ourselves.”
  • On his goalkeepers: I’m quite really pleased bacuase we hve three good players. When you look at the last three games that we play, even Andre [Rawls], when he came on, he did really well. He’s challenging the other goalkeepers.”
  • On new USL partner San Antonio FC: “We’ll decide to get back into contact after we both finish our preaseason, then we will talk about the possibility of sending players. But I think its too early to really talk about it. We’ll try to find a way to send players over there, or even for them to send some of their best players for training. We’ll try to build a trusting and good relationship between the two football clubs.”