Despite some consistency issues, there is no doubt that this incarnation of New York City FC is the best in its short history. And DP midfielder Maxi Moralez is clearly a huge part of why that is. Since signing with the club in February, the diminutive Argentinian has been a lethal playmaker for the Blues in the midfield — you know, everything that fellow DP Andrea Pirlo was supposed to be — and has amassed 3 goals and 7 assists in 20 appearances thus far in 2017.
On Sunday against the New York Red Bulls, Moralez took the field with Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring alongside him, a midfield combination that had yet to be defeated while playing together. This trend would continue on as City defeated the Toros 3-2 in a dramatic comeback victory in front of a sellout crowd. Unfortunately, the win came at a price: Moralez drew an early yellow, giving him five on the season and forcing him to miss the next matchup against LA Galaxy next week.
Granted, there are worse games that Moralez could have been ineligible for than a battle against LA. After all, the Galaxy have struggled immensely this season; after 22 games, LA has earned only 23 points and are currently sitting at 9th in the Western Conference, 9 points outside of the nearest playoff spot.
This is a game that New York City cannot take lightly, however, should they wish to not repeat the absolute tragedies against the likes of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake, both of whom are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff hunt out west. And despite the underwhelming results on the pitch, LA is not without firepower. Giovani dos Santos is still one of the most dynamic forwards in the league and midfielder Romain Alessandrini can give any backline nightmares if given enough space.
So, with such an integral part of the midfield puzzle being relegated to watching the game from the stands, how can NYCFC compensate and avoid losing a potential trap game in the second most important city in the country?
Well, I have devised three realistic options. It is up to you to decide if that they will allow the Boys in Blue to transition seamlessly and grab all three points on Saturday in the City of Angels.
The Return of T-Mac
Despite achieving cult status in his first two seasons with the club, it seems that Tommy McNamara has unfortunately found himself at a cross roads when it comes to how he fits into Patrick Vieira’s meticulously micromanaged system. Having appeared in 18 games thus far, T-Mac has yet to really produce the goods and has only notched 2 goals and 2 assists.
Both Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring are available as of right now, however, and have shown to be effective regardless of who lines up with them. And T-Mac is in desperate need of a blockbuster performance to ensure not just his immediate future with the club, but his long-term future as well. Coach V calling upon the West Nyack native this weekend is definitely not out of the question.
Pirlo’s Last Chance
I never envisioned a world where I would believe that the esteemed Andrea Pirlo would be a liability on the pitch. Nonetheless, here we are. And with that in mind, this is my least favorite option. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility.
Pirlo’s last start ended in complete disaster, a hapless 4-0 spanking at the hands of Toronto FC. Despite his limitations, Vieira seems committed to having Pirlo play at least somewhat of a part in City’s future endeavors so long as he is under contract. And as previously mentioned, it is not like he will be without defensive support with both Herrera and Ring being in the equation.
It sucks to see a legend fade away as opposed to going out on top. And whether we like or not, that is Pirlo’s destiny as of now. This could be the last chance for the Maestro to show what he can do when under pressure. At least, it had better be.
The Youth Movement Takeover
This option might be a slight stretch, but it is by far my favorite option.
Let’s say Vieira elects not to go with either Pirlo or T-Mac to fill in at center mid, and instead elects to field a much younger and more exciting squad by shifting Jack Harrison into the midfield, putting Khiry Shelton on the right side, and lines up Jonathan Lewis on the left flank. In doing this, you compensate well for the pace lost in Maxi’s absence.
While starting Khiry might be risky considering he is coming off of an injury, there is little doubt that his stock has been dropping rapidly since going down with a hamstring injury in April. No longer does he look like the future face of the franchise he was supposed to be back in 2015, instead being relegated to a glorified substitute. Shelton needs to assert himself, and I feel a match against a struggling team like LA could be the remedy for his recent woes, unluckiness notwithstanding.
Starting Lewis also brings up questions considering that Rodney Wallace could be returning at any moment. And if the latter’s fitness is up to par in the boss’ eyes, there is little reason I can find that Wallace doesn’t start. But if Rodney’s injury is persistent or at least still in question, Lewis seems like a no-brainer.
In recent weeks, the former Akron star has played well enough to facilitate more minutes down the road. And it’s only natural that he gets better from here on out. And while most NYCFC fans will continue to count down the minutes until Rodney Wallace’s imminent return, Lewis will more than suffice.
Which one of these options looks best to you? What strategy would you devise? Let us know in the comments!