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2018 NYCFC roster preview: Defenders

New York City FC return most of its starting back line while adding quality pieces for depth.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With opening day of the 2018 MLS season almost upon us, let’s take a look at the new and improved New York City FC roster. There have been nine (!!) new signings for the club this offseason, adding to an impressive group of returning starters that helped lead the team to a conference semifinal appearance last season.

Previously, we looked at the keepers. Next up are the defenders, including four new additions who will be looking to make an immediate impact.

The Bench

  • Cedric Hountondji
  • Saad Abdul-Salaam
  • Ben Sweat
  • Sebastien Ibeagha

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

Don’t be surprised to see a healthy amount of all four of these guys throughout the 2018 campaign. They all have the ability to fill in for any of the Day 1 starters and should share a solid amount of playing time for the Boys in Blue. Sweat was last season’s “hero out of nowhere,” and made the most of his chances by getting up into the attacking third from his left back spot and producing results. An average MLS defender who stepped up in Matarrita’s stead, Sweat earned a another year with the club.

Hountondji is described as “tall and athletic” and fits the bill as the center back that Vieira likes to deploy in his system. He comes from Gazélec Ajaccio (in France’s Ligue 2) where he impressed after earning his spot in the Starting XI. He has his work cut out for him to get past Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens on the depth chart.

Abdul-Salaam is a pacey back who was one of Sporting Kansas City’s best defenders during the 2017 campaign, tallying six assists. Expect to see him on either of the CB’s flanks and forward runs similar to Ben Sweat.

Ibeagha is the newest addition to the team and comes with a strong body of work. The 2017 USL Defender of the Year, Ibeagha was brought as a trialist this preseason and impressed Vieira and company enough to earn a spot. Usually playing as a center back, he brings much needed depth and stability at the position.

The Starting Back Four

  • Alexander Callens
  • Maxime Chanot
  • Ronald Matarrita
  • Anton Tinnerholm

NYCFC will deploy a near carbon copy of the 2017 starting back four with Anton Tinnerholm as the singular change. The Swedish international was named the 2017 Allsvenskan (Sweden) Defender of the Year, and brings with him a healthy résumé that includes appearances in the Champions League as well as with Sweden’s national team. He should be a welcome addition to the back line.

Returning all three of Chanot, Callens, and Matarrita is huge for the club. Callens was NYCFC’s iron man in 2017, starting and playing almost every minute possible from the center back position, where he was stout alongside fellow CB Chanot (and later Frederic Brillant, who’s now with D.C. United).

Chanot’s stellar season was cut short due to a season-ending injury, but he began the year statistically as one of the top defenders in MLS. Losing him last season was unfortunate, but he will surely look to re-establish himself as a leader in the back this year.

Matarrita also missed a good chunk of the 2017 season due to injury, but was widely considered to be one of the premier young talents in the league. Expect Mata to fly up the pitch and provide service into the box while also having the pace and strength to stave off MLS’ best attackers.

MLS: Playoffs-Toronto FC at New York City FC Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

By returning most of the group from last year’s impressive regular season run while also making some key offseason additions, it would be hard to argue that NYCFC didn’t greatly improve their defensive corps. They seemingly have the depth on defense to make up for potential injuries, and finally make it past the conference semis.