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Khiry Shelton is back to prove that he deserves to be a New York City FC player. Can he do it?

The third-year forward has serious questions to answer. And he doesn’t have much time to make it happen.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When New York City FC announced that Khiry Shelton would miss 4-6 weeks with a bum hamstring, nobody was happy. Over here at HRB, we’ve backed K19 more than most, so we were particularly disappointed, but not deterred.

That was April 18th.

Yeah, it turned out to be 14 weeks and not 6. And all the while, as Rodney Wallace and Jack Harrison were racking up goals, the rumblings about whether NYCFC’s first-ever draft pick was destined to be packaged up as a trade asset got louder and louder.

A clean bill of health means that he can resume his ideal role for the Bronx Blues: the super-sub winger who can stress out defenses through a rare combination of athleticism and size. Particularly given that first-choice left winger Wallace is almost-but-not-yet back from a strained adductor — and that young scion Jonathan Lewis is going through inevitable growing pains — Shelton may be coming upon his last, best chance to ingratiate himself to a fanbase and a front office that has very real, very reasonable doubts about his future with the team.

He’s played in 4 games in 2017, all off the bench. His total minutes? 62. He hasn’t taken a shot. Seeing him go down for such an extended period is a damned shame given how large a leap he made from his awkward, flailing rookie campaign to featured status last year, when he tallied 4 goals, 6 assists, and 3 hockey assists. He had begun to emerge as an aerial threat; besides the dearly departed Patrick Mullins, New York City has never been able to get it done in the air.

We’re talking about a man that NYCFC drafted ahead of, say, Cristian Roldan. Touted as he was, and talented as he is, the eve of the Hudson River Derby is the perfect time to ask one big question:

What does Khiry Shelton have to do in order to prove that he deserves to wear a New York City jersey in 2018?

At this point, is there anything he can do? Plausibly?

To be fair, there are a number of unanswered queries that would mitigate the nature of the demands on Shelton at the moment. Is the club looking to sign a winger ASAP to take the place of out-for-the-season Miguel Camargo? Is the front office fielding offers for Jack Harrison that may come to fruition come winter? Could Shelton begin to make any hay playing centrally, given that Sean Okoli has struggled to get himself nary a touch in that role?

We may take a big step toward clarifying that picture tomorrow at Yankee Stadium. But as it stands, it’s difficult to conceive of a world in which Khiry Shelton is wearing the famous Etihad shirt next year. At 24 years old, he’s too good of a trade asset, and he doesn’t provide anything other than depth at the moment.

Of course, there’s a chance that K19 regains his 2016 form and starts torching chumps in the final half hour. In that case, the halls of Hudson River Blue’s sprawling offices would erupt in cheers.

But we’re not betting on it.