It feels like forever since we’ve actually had something to talk about regarding New York City FC and their on-field performance. But after MLS and the Players Association came to an agreement earlier last week, the time to start thinking about where we left off — and where we go from here — is finally upon us.
When MLS announced a temporary suspension of play due to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, NYCFC were off to an awfully slow start to their domestic season. Despite a convincing dispatching of San Carlos in the CONCACAF Champions League in which they beat the reigning Costa Rican champs by way of a 6-3 goal difference, City had lost both of their first two games of the 2020 MLS season to the tune of 1-0 scorelines — three if you include the CCL loss to Mexican giants Tigres (also 1-0), but we’ll get to that in a bit.
As of right now, the actual continuation of MLS’s season isn’t slated to begin until at least late August. But before that, all 26 of the league’s clubs will participate in a World Cup-like tournament in Orlando, Florida that will feature three group stage matches before advancing to knockout rounds that will include 16 teams. This tournament is the perfect opportunity for Ronny Deila & Co. to find their legs, as well as their tactics.
So, how does NYCFC turn around a poor start and make inroads towards recapturing their 2019 form? Here are some of my ideas.
Don’t be too defensive in the midfield
I love James Sands, you love James Sands... anyone who identifies as a New York City fan likes James Sands. But here’s the bottom line: when he and Alexander Ring are the two midfielders behind Maxi Moralez, chance creation suffers.
NYCFC’s success last year came from Ring being the destroyer that would be able to sit behind the play while Keaton Parks acted as a box-to-box midfielder, linking the defense to the playmaker Moralez. And as of right now, the No. 8 role doesn’t seem to be the one that Sands plays the most effectively.
We saw this in the beginning of the 2019 season where City were struggling to win games, despite playing pretty well overall. Once Parks made his way into the fold, the wins came in abundance.
Alexandru Mitrita needs to pass the ball more
Mitrita is a good player. In fact, he is a very good player. But he’s also very selfish.
Many times in City’s first two domestic games, the Romanian international looked off promising runs in order to cut into the middle of the park and take a low-percentage chance from distance. It’s become one of my biggest pet peeves.
We’ve seem what Mitri is capable of when he’s on his game and the types of plays he’s able to orchestrate when he’s actually reading the field and looking for those incisive balls. And yes, his selfishness is a bit refreshing compared to fellow DP Jesus Medina’s timidness (more on that in just a bit). But for as long as he thinks it’s a one-man show, City’s full potential cannot be realized.
It’s time for Ronald Matarrita to take a seat
At one point, Ronald Matarrita was perhaps NYCFC’s hottest commodity. It’s this status that has made him City’s longest tenured player on the roster.
The honeymoon phase, however, is well behind us. And as of recently, Mata’s performances just haven’t been good enough. Really, they haven’t been good at all.
Though questions were swirling regarding his consistency long before last October, Matarrita’s horror tackle in the box that gifted a playoff game to Toronto FC still lingers in the minds of NYCFC fans and has essentially made the Costa Rican persona non grata in the Five Boroughs. And it hasn’t gotten any better since. In City’s final regular season game before the COVID stuff hit the fan, also against Toronto, Mata once again gifted the Reds a win with a sloppy turnover at the back.
There has to be a time where Deila has to put his foot down. Maybe that means that new signing Gudmundur Thórarinsson is given a shot to see what he can do.
Jesus Medina needs to go. Now.
We’ve all given Medina several chances to prove that he is worth the Designated Player slot he occupies. And in a way, I feel bad for saying this. But truth is truth, no matter how much it hurts — Jesus Medina needs to go. As soon as possible.
Though he looked promising at one point, the young Paraguayan has mostly flopped since the departure of former manager Patrick Vieira in the summer of 2018. Medina then failed to assimilate himself into Domé Torrent’s system and thus far has looked lost in Deila’s plans as well. It’s become self-evident that Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is by far City’s best asset at the right flank.
Even if it means eating the original transfer fee, New York City must make an honest attempt to move Medina come the opening of the next transfer window. I’d even settle for terminating his contract and letting him go wherever he pleases. Regardless, Medina needs to go. Right now.