It’s no secret that I’ve been extremely critical of New York City FC since MLS’s restart this summer. When you’re looking at the numbers, it’s hard not to be. After all, one win and only three points within their first six games of regular season play is not really what anyone expected from a team that dominated the Eastern Conference in 2019 before shooting themselves in the foot during the playoffs.
Even after NYCFC’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew this past Monday — which gives them six points in seven games and brings them out of the Eastern Conference cellar — there are still lingering concerns regarding chance creation and overall performance in the attacking third. But, it’s a start. And if we are going by the numbers, NYCFC has a good opportunity to begin the long road back to form in the final four games of Phase 1 of MLS’s return to play.
Let’s first address the teams that NYCFC are matched up against. On August 29 — my birthday by the way! — City will take on the Chicago Fire at “home” in New Jersey. After that, it’s a short trip to Foxborough, MA where they will face the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium before, once again, travelling to face D.C. United in the Nation’s Capital. After a quick two-game road trip, New York City finish Phase 1 back at Red Bull Arena against FC Cininatti.
Of all of those teams — Chicago, New England, D.C., and Cincinatti — none of them rank above 7th place in the Eastern Conference table. In a league so bent on parity and budgeting, I can understand how that wouldn’t be of a whole lot of value to you. But, it’s not the undefeated Columbus that NYCFC defeated earlier this week, nor is it the consistently strong LAFC that the team has to deal with. Instead, NYCFC are facing clubs with similar struggles and insecurities in this bizarre 2020 season. And fresh off of a cathartic win against one of the MLS’s heavyweights, confidence is surely starting to build within the team.
Another valuable piece of information is that despite playing two road games in a four-game, two-week stretch, travel should not be a factor. On paper, City’s longest road trip between now and the end of Phase 1 in the one to D.C., a manageable 4-hour drive from the New York metropolitan area. The other is to Foxborough, which clocks at just under three and a half hours. One of the biggest challenges that MLS clubs face is the trek across five different time zones in the North American area. But for NYCFC, it’s only lengthy Sunday drives from here until the middle of September.
Of course, I’ve saved the best for last. DP playmaker Maxi Moralez and dynamic winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi have returned from injury!
After missing both of the first Phase 1 games, Moralez and Tajouri-Shradi were full participants in NYCFC’s latest training session and it is implied that they should both be available for Saturday’s game against Chicago. Having these two players at the club’s disposal could play dividends in unlocking City’s infinite offensive potential, a potential we’ve seen realized in years past.
After a turbulent start to their season, the ball is in NYCFC’s court as they have multiple opportunity’s to silence the critics and reclaim their rightful place in the MLS playoff picture.