With the 2018 regular season finale just two days away, it’s time to start thinking about how New York City FC should line up against the dangerous Philadelphia Union at Yankee Stadium. It’s frustrating — if not outright infuriating — that it’s come to this: one last game where NYCFC must win in order to preserve home-field advantage for their knockout playoff round, or be forced to play it on the road where they have struggled greatly all year.
In many ways, Sunday is City and Domé Torrent’s final chance to make things right. In their last 10 games, the Bronx Blues are 2-5-3. For a team that was once considered a bona fide MLS Cup contender, that isn’t only poor — that’s unacceptable.
Because of this do-or-die scenario, it’s gonna take an exceptional performance from everyone involved to grab all three points and give City a fighting chance in a playoff scenario. And that starts with the lineup selection.
So, who should start for NYCFC to take on the U? Here are my picks:
GK: Sean Johnson
RB: Anton Tinnerholm
CB: Maxime Chanot
CB: Alex Callens
LB: Ben Sweat
DM: Alex Ring
CM: Yangel Herrera
CM: Maxi Moralez
RW: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi
ST: David Villa
LW: Jesus Medina
Bench: Brad Stuver, Jonathan Lewis, Ebenezer Ofori, Seabstien Ibeagha, Ronald Matarrita, James Sands, Jo Inge Berget
Defense: For obvious reasons, Johnson starts in net while the usual Tinnerholm and Callens start at right back and center back respectively. Chanot returns to the lineup in exchange for Sebastien Ibeagha. While the Nigerian-born 2017 USL Defender of the Year has given valiant shifts since joining as a trialist in the preseason, Ibeagha just doesn’t have the technicality that Chanot does. Yes, Ibeagha has the pace and the pure brute force to get the job done, but he is often caught flat footed on plays where Chanot usually excels.
Elsewhere, Ben Sweat earns the start over Ronald Matarrita. I have no issues with Mata, as I feel he is one of the more talented players on the team. While the Costa Rican is far more dynamic than his American counterpart, Sweat seems to be more balanced and fundamentally sound, at least right now. Plus, Mata’s energy off the bench could prove useful late in the game if things aren’t going our way.
Midfield: We have yet to see the injury report, so there really is no way for us to know the status of Maxi Moralez — who missed last weekend’s game against D.C. United — at the moment. But, should the news be good heading into the weekend, the diminutive Argentinean playmaker is shoe-in to start, as is defensive midfielder Alex Ring.
Meanwhile, Yangel Herrera makes his long-awaited return to the No. 8 position. The Venezuelan midfielder — currently on loan from mothership Manchester City — impressed in his short shift last week at Audi Field. Moments after coming on, Herrera dished two beautiful passes in as many touches, one of which was an assist to David Villa in NYCFC’s lone goal of the day. If there is even an a smidgen of optimism that he can produce at least 60 minutes on Sunday, then I say start him. Because he is by far the best available option we have at the box-to-box position.
Forward: For reasons beyond my understanding, Taty Castellanos started over Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. The selection made no sense as NYCFC were coming off of a three-week break and that all available forwards, to our knowledge, were healthy. To be fair, I think Taty has the potential to be a good player. But as of right now, he is not. The Torque loan is an absolute turnover machine and, outside of his debut performance, has proven to be ineffective in the goalscoring department. Tajouri-Shradi, on the other hand, has been arguably NYCFC’s best player this season. And if he’s healthy, he should be starting. No matter what.
David Villa quite obviously starts at the No. 9 while Young DP Jesus Medina returns to the right wing position, where he will be in charge of the distribution. Medina has been hot and cold throughout the year, but caught fire in the summer right before going down with an injury and missing an extended period of time. It’s time for him to be set loose upon the Etihad Pitch and prove himself again.
On the bench: I think it’s fairly obvious that — somehow, some way — Eloi Amagat and Castellanos will find their way on the bench. But this article is about who should play, and not necessarily who will. Therefore, both of them have been omitted from my team sheet.
Jonathan Lewis returns to the 18 after his loan spell with Lousiville City. To provide a boost in the case of an injury or poor performance, both James Sands and Ebenezer Ofori are there as midfield options while Sebastien Ibeagha is there to bolster the defense. The same can be said for Ronald Matarrita and Jonathan Lewis, who provide pace and energy should City need it. Jo Inge Berget is there for offensive cover, and Brad Stuver is the backup goalkeeper.
Do you agree with this list? What would your ideal Starting XI look like and why? Let us know in the comments!