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NYCFC’s draw with Chicago is a test of character

The Blues’ reaction to their disappointing showing on Saturday is of the utmost importance

MLS: New York City FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

I swear, I tried to write a recap of this game. I really did. But what is there really to say about it other than the fact that New York City FC largely under-performed against an objectively inferior Chicago Fire team?

It seems that every single time I’m willing to let my guard down and finally say, “OK, this team is for real,” it completely comes back to bite me with a showing like this. Now, I expect the usual list of complaints with an article like this:

“Oh Christian, it’s just one game. You’re way too negative.”

“They were probably rusty. They haven’t played in two weeks.”

I’m sorry, but none of these criticisms justify a team like NYCFC drawing 1-1 with a Chicago Fire team (that lost 4-1 last weekend against a San Jose Earthquakes team that will probably not make the playoffs) in such a flat and underwhelming manner. We’re not talking about a game in which the Blues were unlucky with their chances. We’re talking a game where they were lucky to escape with a point.

The numbers speak for themselves. City was out-shot, out-possessed, and flat out out-played on Saturday. We saw no semblance of the team that had finally begun putting it all together in the seven matches prior. Had Chicago been more clinical and started Nemanja Nikolic, it’s very possible that NYCFC would have left Bridgeview without any points.

Yes, this is a bit of a “rant.” But let me be clear on something: this isn’t an indictment. Throughout a full 34-game season, peaks and valleys are imminent for every team. I understand that. And maybe — just maybe — this was one of those games.

Instead, this is a challenge.

Two weeks ago — after I had launched a heap of criticism in his direction— I wrote an article stating that I was open to manager Domé Torrent being the right man for the job. Although I have reiterated that I’m not going to be tweeting “#DomeIn” any time soon, the feelings expressed in that article are still valid. As a matter of fact, in said article, I wrote this:

...we’ve seen this before. In his first six games with club, Torrent won five of them before the absolute shitshow that were the months of July and August. It’s what happens after things go wrong for the first time that will define whether or not Domé can hack it in the five boroughs.

Since shifting NYCFC from Patrick Vieira’s 4-3-3 to the new 3-4-3/5-3-2, things have been going pretty swimmingly for the Boys in Blue. In the seven games prior to Saturday, City had posted an impressive 4-0-3 (W-L-D) record including three clean sheets on the road.

But things went horribly wrong against the Fire. Though they were tied at the time, Torrent himself said at half time that the first 45 minutes of Saturday’s game was the “worst half” he had seen the team play all season. (I couldn’t find this quote myself on Twitter or in the recaps, and I don’t speak a lick of Spanish. But that’s how it as translated by Univision’s English play-by-play man Nico Cantor on the live TV broadcast.) And considering the fact that NYCFC didn’t perform much better in the second half, I’d presume that the Catalan manager still feels the same way about the game as a whole.

So, now that we have all of the necessary data to conclude that Saturday’s performance wasn’t up to par, Torrent & Co. have to do something to prove that this was a one-time flub: show character and respond.

Like I said in the article, it’s what happens after the status quo is challenged that will show what NYCFC is really made of.

This Saturday, the Blues travel to the Discovery City to face the formidable Columbus Crew SC in the last game of a grueling month-long road trip. If NYCFC can put the Chicago outing behind them and put in a good showing this weekend, then it will say a lot. Not just about Torrent and his ability to work through trouble, but the team as a whole.

If Torrent is as smart as he talks himself up to be, then the Chicago game was possibly the best thing that could have ever happened to this team. It’s the performance that was needed to show that, despite recent results, there is still a fair share of dead weight on this team. Maybe it’s time to bench the underwhelming Tony Rocha — who has slowly become this year’s “Amagat” — and give other guys like Keaton Parks and Juan Pablo Torres their chance in the sun. Maybe it’s time for Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to have more of a chance in games where Alexandru Mitrita is healthy.

If Domé is the right man for the job, these are things he should absolutely be considering right now.

But if the game against Columbus turns out to be a complete disaster, don’t be surprised if it’s the genesis of a complete tactical meltdown.