Let’s face it, sports crowds are tough. They’re fickle, impatient, and demand positive results every time out. But sports crowds in New York, one of, if not the most important city in the world; they’re an entirely different animal.
One need only to look at the 2015 NBA Draft to see exactly what I mean.
Coming off of an extremely poor season that saw them go 17-65 and miss the playoffs for a consecutive year, the New York Knicks were given the fourth overall pick for the 2015 draft. In a shock move, the Knicks selected the relatively unknown Kristaps Porzingis who had entered the NBA draft after spending four years with Sevilla’s basketball club. The unrelenting New York crowd at the Radio City Music Hall showered Porzingis with boos, despite knowing little to nothing about the budding Latvian
Much to the surprise of onlookers both in the five boroughs and nationwide, Porzingis went on a tear in his rookie season and has since emerged as one of the NBA’s top players.
Fast forward three years, and New York City FC is facing a similar predicament.
Prior to the beginning of the 2018 MLS season, NYCFC obtained Norweigan forward Jo Inge Berget from Swedish club Malmo CF. Though many fans were cautiously optimistic about City’s newest acquisition, a significant portion of fans immediately drew unfavorable comparisons between Berget and former NYCFC striker Adam Nemec, a fellow bearded European who played on New York City for half of their inaugural season in 2015 and yielded virtually no return on investment.
And initially, that vocal minority seemed to be proven correct.
For much of the early goings of the season, Berget looked lethargic, clumsy, and out of place. Though he showed sparse moments of capability, Berget’s inconsistency under Patrick Vieira and his micro-managed system led fans to become despondent with the Norweigan national.
Fast forward to June 2018, and Vieira has parted ways with NYCFC and in his place comes Domé Torrent. Having served as the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola — arguably the best football manager in the world right now — for over a decade, Torrent has always been known to bring out the best in his players and trying them out in different roles, the most notable being moving longtime fullback Phillip Lahm to center midfield role while with Guardiola at Bayern Munich.
In his first game under the Spanish manager, Berget showed a prolonged attacking prowess and ruthlessness that we had only seen in spurts previously and bagged both of NYCFC’s goals in a 2-1 win over Toronto FC. With City needing a goalscoring threat to replace that of David Villa who had exited the game earlier with a hamstring injury, Torrent moved Berget into the no. 9 position and had him make more incisive runs as opposed to playing as a hold-up forward. A role in which he delivered.
Granted, it’s one game. And it’s possible that Berget’s critics — ourselves included — go back to calling for his head next week. But I personally do not think it is a coincidence that his first game under a new manager in a similar but more refined system saw him score a brace.
With all that said, I ask you this: is it possible we are wrong about Jo Inge Berget? Can the Norweigan use this game as a stepping stone to becoming a more consistent contributor in the near-future and help NYCFC attain their championship goals?
Or will we soon be back to right where we started?