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Will The Real NYCFC Please Stand Up?

Sunday’s Derby will tell us if the Boys in Blue are pretenders or contenders.

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

After only three years in the league, New York City Football Club continues to look more and more like a financial and sporting power. Currently sitting at third place in both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings, the club is in prime position to compete for silverware this season.

Every silver lining has a cloud, however — and this cloud might darken a promising campaign.

Last week’s 4-0 destruction at the hands of Toronto FC was a sharp reminder of just how far away the summit may truly be.

Due to the suspension of teenage wonder Yangel Herrera, once-hyped Designated Player Andrea Pirlo got the start. It is now evidently clear that should never happen again.

Khiry Shelton, Ronald Matarrita, Miguel Camargo, James Sands, Rodney Wallace, and Maxime Chanot were all injured. Three of those players — Matarrita, Chanot, and Wallace — were at one point mainstays in the Starting XI.

Matarrita’s broken foot will keep him out until September or October, at the earliest. Chanot will not be back for this weekend’s derby either, while Wallace is listed as questionable. Sands is still out, while Camargo is out for the season. Sure, Shelton is back, but he isn’t exactly the star needed to put the club back on track.

While these injuries are certainly damaging and can somewhat account for recent poor performances, they do not justify a 4-0 thrashing.

In fact, NYCFC is just 2-2-1 in its last five. This stretch epitomizes the club’s bizarre inconsistency and the fan ire that comes along with it.

In this last five, NYCFC has defeated both the abysmal Minnesota United and the 2nd place Chicago Fire. Yet, this same stretch has been clouded with embarrassing losses to Vancouver and Toronto, as well as a 2-2 draw with the latter.

Somehow, in a five game stretch, NYCFC has:

  • Beat up on Minnesota United, the 20th team in the league.
  • Fallen to the Vancouver Whitecaps, a middling mid-table team.
  • Drawn Toronto FC, the best team in the league.
  • Defeated the Chicago Fire, the 2nd best team in the league, while playing with ten men.
  • Been embarrassed by Toronto FC.

If NYCFC is serious about competing for a trophy, they need to figure it out quick. If the club can handle the Chicago Fire while a man down, there is no reason why they should be losing matches to the Whitecaps or being utterly embarrassed by Toronto.

This weekend’s home Hudson River Derby is therefore a must win — if not for bragging rights, then for practical purposes.

NYCFC currently sits two points above the New Jersey New York Red Bulls at 3rd in the Eastern Conference, although we already have a game in hand. If the Red Bulls return from the Bronx to the Jersey suburbs this weekend with a victory, NYCFC will drop to fourth, despite the extra match played.

If Atlanta United defeats Sporting KC on Sunday, they will be tied with NYCFC at 37 points — again, while NYCFC will still have a game in hand. Due to MLS tiebreakers, NYCFC would then be sitting at 5th in the Eastern Conference.

There is a real scenario in which, following this weekend, NYCFC would suddenly be sitting a mere 2-3 points above the dreaded red line in the east.

Under the glare of the New York media and a fanbase hungry for trophies and success, this is essentially the worst case scenario.

With Andrea Pirlo set to sit on the bench — despite his nearly $6 million designated player salary — NYCFC doesn’t have any real flexibility in terms of bringing in new talent.

Following Camargo’s season-ending injury, NYCFC was given a second international roster slot. The transfer window closes on August 9th.

Despite some online chatter, it’s hard to imagine NYCFC making any substantial talent-boosting roster moves in the next five days.

Sure, Patrick Vieira would like to bring in some depth, but these additions would be depth, not a real talent boost to bolster our trophy pursuits.

NYCFC’s current roster is likely the same roster we’ll be seeing through the rest of the season and (hopefully) the playoffs. If NYCFC claims to be a serious contender, it is vital that they prove it this weekend.

While Maxime Chanot and Rodney Wallace will eventually return, NYCFC must tread water until that happens. Every team deals with injuries and suspensions, but true contenders don’t break under these circumstances, they maintain their position. The Blues broke last weekend.

If NYCFC truly plans to contend for a trophy, they can’t keep dropping points while waiting on the return of injured starters. True contenders don’t fall behind, hoping to catch up at the end of the season when their starters return.

A loss this weekend would drop New York City to fourth, potentially fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Following this weekend’s Hudson River Derby, NYCFC is heading out to West to take on the Galaxy. Trips out West have been far from easy for this team, as recent excursions have resulted in losses to both Vancouver and Salt Lake.

In fact, New York City has lost four of its last five road matches in all competitions. The lone exception was June’s Hudson River Derby, in which NYCFC triumphed 2-0 across state lines.

A loss this weekend at Yankee Stadium — followed by a potential loss in Los Angeles — is the nightmare scenario. Honestly, a loss this weekend is enough to ring the alarm.

Contenders fight through injuries and suspensions to get results. Pretenders fold under the pressure, as New York City did last weekend. If the club is serious about competing for a trophy, it can’t fold again this weekend, especially at home, against such a bitter rival.

A derby win — especially one actually played in New York — is always a positive, but this weekend’s clash will serve as a test of NYCFC’s true character and will tell fans what to expect moving forward.

A loss will cement the hard truth, that this team lacks depth and is overly reliant on a set of inconsistent, injury-prone internationals. A win will offer hope that this group isn’t that team, but the one we saw against Chicago — one with the ability to battle through adversity.

Following the inconsistency of the last five matches, and the season as a whole, I’ve got no idea who the real NYCFC is.

The fan in me tells me to hope that El Guaje brings home a win this weekend. Then again, the pessimistic New York sports fan in me tells me another derby thrashing is on the horizon.

I think the good guys win this weekend, and I can only hope it pushes us towards trophy contention. Regardless, even if we win, we need to stay consistent.

Consistency is the mark of a true contender, and New York City has yet to demonstrate that they can get results, let alone compete with the big boys (see: 2016 playoffs).

An NYCFC win this weekend, one which I think we secure, will propel the club back into the trophy discussion, as it should. However, this potential step in the right direction cannot mask the fact that there are a ton of issues which should worry fans moving forward.

If Villa gets injured, the season’s over. Honestly, if Harrison, Moralez, Herrera, or Ring get injured, the season’s over. Patrick Vieira has failed to build a team with substantial depth, like Toronto, meaning that this group just cannot sustain any real loss of talent.

Hell, the roster can barely sustain the vacuum of talent and money that is Andrea Pirlo.

This weekend’s Derby promises to serve as the embodiment of this season. NYCFC, down two starters, will have to take on a red hot Red Bull team. Once again, a potential victory hinges on David Villa and a host of subpar reserves now thrust into the starting XI.

I think NYCFC wins. I also think that they are contenders — for now.

The statistics, as provided by @NYCFCTactics, back it up as well.

Courtesy of @NYCFCTactics

When juxtaposed, the Bronx Blues’ goal differential, both at home and on the road, puts the club in the same league as the big boys.

According to this statistic, NYCFC is in the quadrant determined to designate true “contenders.”

However, contenders are supposed to have depth, and as our well of talent continues to dry up due to injury and age, our chances for glory wane. If New York City can tread water until Wallace and Chanot return, and Vieira can find a way to build and strengthen the bench, then the club can truly compete for a trophy.

Otherwise, even with a derby win, New York City is one injury away from disaster. Until the Boys in Blue can prove that they aren’t reliant exclusively on David Villa’s heroics, they are pretending to truly chase trophies.

The club has repeatedly folded under pressure following injuries and suspensions. This weekend’s derby is a chance to right the ship and prove that yes, they can truly compete for a championship, even in the face of injuries, age, and suspensions.

While a loss proves that NYCFC are pretenders, a win will demonstrate that they have the ability to potentially compete. A win is not a confirmation of trophy contention, but simply a continuation of the narrative that silverware is a possibility.

There is still serious work to be done to prove that these boys are truly contenders, but a win this weekend is a step in the right direction.

A win this weekend — as I’m hoping for and predicting — keeps the pipe dream of silverware alive.

A loss, particularly one of embarrassing proportions, as NYCFC has proven prone to, will be cause to ring the alarm.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Let’s hope Patrick Vieira and the boys do enough to keep the dream alive.