You know, after seeing how New York City FC performed in their first two CONCACAF Champions League games, I had really high hopes for the beginning of the 2020 MLS season. How could you not? Héber scored a hat trick in his first competitive game after the winter break, the defense was looking solid, the interplay in the midfield was fluid, etc.
But through their first two games of the domestic season, NYCFC have failed to show any signs of life. As of right now, the team hasn’t scored a goal. And they haven’t even come close.
The maligned Designated Player Jesus Medina has started both two games on the right wing and has looked lost at best against the run of play, much like he has since the summer of 2018. On the opposite flank, fellow DP Alexandru Mitrita hasn’t looked much better, constantly looking off passes and instead resorting to low-percentage chances from distance.
At one point during the second half, YES play-by-play man Joe Tolleson brought up something quite alarming. “Maybe San Carlos isn’t that good,” the longtime NYCFC play caller quipped. And I’m inclined to agree. Maybe the City that we saw in the first two CCL matches was a byproduct of inferior competition and not a sign of the club’s true form.
For much of the game against Toronto FC on Saturday, City were chasing the play. They weren’t possessing the ball with any confidence, nor were they pressing with aplomb as we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Instead, the Boys in Blue seemed content to just absorb pressure from TFC’s attack in the hopes of spurring a counter-attack.
And late in the game, it cost them.
In a flashback of nightmares past, none other than Ronald Matarrita gifted the ball to Toronto in the defensive third. All that was needed after that was three passes for an easy tap-in header by MLS debutant Ifunanyachi Achara, effectively ending the game and handing City their second loss in as many games in the 2020 season.
Blame it on Matarrita, blame it on Mitrita, blame it on Medina... right now, all eyes shift over to new manager Ronny Deila.
I don’t care if it’s only been two games. With two CCL matches in the lead up to the season, NYCFC were effectively given a head start to get their tactics together and their ducks in a row. And it’s not like that should’ve been a hard task to begin with. We’ve gone on and on about how City have carried over their entire starting lineup over from last season, a rare feat in a league with as much roster turnover as MLS. All Deila needs to do is put a half-decent gameplan on the table, and the results should be pouring in like water.
But no, City have been blanked in their first two MLS games of 2020, marking this as their worst start to a season in franchise history — yes, that includes the shitty inaugural season back in 2015. For Deila, that is not good news. Not for the head coach of a New York based sports team that has underachieved more than it’s captivated in it’s five years of play.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Shit happens. Look how Domé Torrent’s tenure with the club started out — 4 wins in 20 competitive games. But Domé’s situation was completely different. He inherited a top-table club midseason, then was given a full and comprehensive preseason to sort things out for 2019. Domé had what Deila does not: time.
Deila seems like a great guy. My first live experience of his coaching was in the second leg of the CCL Round of 16 against San Carlos. With the game effectively over, Gary Macay-Steven withstood an ugly challenge from a frustrated defender right in front of NYCFC’s bench. Infuriated, Deila shoved the soon-to-be-booked opposing player, sparking a skirmish between the two teams’ benches. I was hyped! I hadn’t seen that much emotion from a City coach in all of our tenure.
Immediately, I posted this on Twitter which remains our pinned tweet to this day:
Ronny Deila is officially my favorite manager #NYCFC— Hudson River Blue (@hudsonriverblue) February 27, 2020
Even after two losses, my feelings remain the same. I want Deila to succeed. But New York is a far cry from Valarenga or even Celtic. We are impatient. Brutally so. And if he wants his NYCFC reign to be a happy, lengthy one, the results need to start coming.