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The Rise of Ben Sweat

How one man went from preseason trialist to Hudson River Derby hero

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls
The Legendary Header
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been approximately two months since, we first heard the news that Ronald Matarrita would be out with an ankle injury. At the time, while it seemed to be crippling news for New York City, I wrote an article looking at possible replacements for Mata. I admittedly viewed Ben Sweat, who hadn’t played a game in MLS, as an afterthought in terms of being an adequate replacement at left back. He played primarily as a left-sided center back during the preseason, and I honestly was not that impressed with his performances. I was surprised he made the cut after coming as a trialist. While I noted it was possible since that was his primary position when the Columbus Crew SC drafted him in 2014, I didn’t think this would be where Patrick Vieira saw him playing for the club.

Well, after writing that piece, Sweat promptly started at left back versus his old team in Columbus, notching an assist (and a yellow card) en route to a 3-2 New York City FC victory. Since then, Sweat has started in 9 matches for NYCFC. Over that span, New York City has posted a 5-1-2 record, collecting 17 points and keeping pace as they sit at 3rd place in the Eastern Conference and 3rd in the Supporter’s Shield standings. They’ve also sported a +8 goal differential over that same span. While there have been a number of key contributors for City’s recent success, Ben Sweat has stood and been counted.

Over the past two months, Sweat has tallied 3 assists and 1 goal. For the season, those 3 assists tie him for the lead among left backs in the league alongside Joevin Jones and Kemar Lawrence - for any MLS fullback, that’s good company. The Audi Player Index has also for the most part favored Sweat’s performances for the club, with 4 performances with API over 300, and 6 matches over 100, with only two negative performances in the 9 matches. Calling Sweat’s performance so far at left back a welcomed surprised would be a severe understatement.

And we haven’t even discussed the coup de grâce: his Hudson River Derby performance. Not only did Sweat hold his own against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, but he soared scoring both a goal and assist on the day. In a 2-0 away victory against the club’s vaunted rivals, Sweat made the biggest impact in Red Bull Arena. WhoScored.com gave Sweat the Man of the Match Honors, and the Audi Player Index gave him a score of 526 for his performance - good for the best rating of any player in City Blue for this match. And the accolades are well deserved. Sweat’s play on Saturday displayed the fullest range of strengths we’ve yet seen from him this year, beginning with his set-up of Jack Harrison’s opening tally:

This assist is a microcosm of Sweat’s play so far this season. He doesn’t try to force a ball to Villa, or overdo it by whipping in a cross. Instead, Sweat let’s the game slow down for a moment, observes his options, and makes a simple, but smart, pass to Jack Harrison, who buries it with an amazing curler of a goal. Then he decided to give us all of the all the style and flair you could ask for with a floating header that had an arch on it that makes Steph Curry jealous:

I mean, let that header sear into your brains for perpetuity. It’s amazing, it’s class, it’s grit and heart. It’s everything we want out of New York City FC. And it’s everything that makes Ben Sweat’s story this season wonderful to root for.

To go from becoming SuperDraft afterthought to 23rd man on NYCFC’s roster to the star man of the Hudson River Derby is an incredible journey. And it’s the kind of stuff that can make you a folk hero, especially here in the Boogie Down. And at 25 years old, it’s possible we are only just beginning to see Ben Sweat’s talents come to the fore right now. His future can be bright in City Blue.

Granted, Sweat doesn’t bring the same elite athleticism as the Costa Rican Dynamo that is Ronald Matarrita; we’ll have to see what happens with Sweat’s playing time now that Mata is back and relatively healthy as we enter the summer. But, at the very least, Ben Sweat has showed that he’s a reliable understudy at the left back position. And, even more, maybe he’s made himself into a tactical asset that Vieira can utilize in certain matches, perhaps even favoring what Sweat brings to the table over Mata depending on the opponent. Sweat’s play also gives Vieira the option to play Mata further the up the pitch, like he did when subbed in for Rodney Wallace this past weekend.

All of this is good news for NYCFC and its fans. We’ve already come to the realization this is the deepest team in New York City history, and maybe the deepest team in the league. And with the revelation that is Ben Sweat at left back, we are looking even deeper than we thought.

Whatever the case may be, let’s enjoy this beautiful run of form the club is on. And, as we like to say here at HRB...

DON’T SWEAT THE TECHNIQUE!