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NYCFC: Kings of Mediocrity

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Because why wouldn’t they be?

New York City FC v Orlando City SC: Round One - MLS Cup Playoffs Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

I was playing FIFA 21 last night. It being FUT Champions weekend, I like many others grinded for hours in an attempt to log as many wins as I could within the span of 30 games to be awarded player packs that could hopefully yield either players that can bolster my squad or net me huge coins on the transfer market.

It didn’t start off badly either. In my first 21 games, I won 17. Most of it was a grind and not a pleasurable experience. But “a win is a win is a win” as the saying goes. Then it started to fall apart. I lost my next four consecutive games, leaving me only four remaining games to win the further three I needed to grab my target rank of Gold 1.

In pure frustration, I quit out of FIFA in a desperate need to escape it. Because let’s face it — whether you’re good at the game or not, anyone who says EA Sports’ leading “football sim” is anything more than mediocre is not someone worth speaking to. And sometimes, you just need a break.

Once I got to my Xbox’s hub for installed games looking for something else to occupy my time, I noticed a disappointing trend: the same thing I just said for FIFA could easily be applied to most of the games in my library.

No Man’s Sky is a perfectly fun game, but it took Hello Games over three years to make it even half of what it was cracked up to be pre-launch. Cyberpunk 2077 has a highly engaging story with compelling characters, but is notoriously broken. Call of Duty: Cold War is pretty much a reskin of every CoD game you’ve ever played. The Witcher 3 is one of the best games ever made, but it had to withstand a very buggy launch on console before it got there. NBA 2K21 is fundamentally one of the best sports games on the market, but is laden with pay-to-win shortcuts and overwhelming microtransactions, And let’s be honest — Control is a bit overrated.

Of all of my owned games that were available to me (I currently have 15 installed) on my Xbox Series X, three could be considered to be truly great, complete, and functional video games. And two of them weren’t even made in the past decade (Mafia: Definitive Edition was technically released this year. But it’s just a remake).

Then, it dawned on me. This generation is satisfied with mediocrity.

Nobody demands more of the companies that get us to part ways with our hard earned cash. As much as people cry and complain about the products they purchase, nobody is willing to bite the bullet and spend their money elsewhere. The complaints against FIFA being pay-to-win and a poor reflection of the sport it simulates are perpetual within the community. Yet somehow, every single year, we part with $60 — or more depending on which edition you buy — of our money to play the newest entry. I’m guilty of it too.

While having this nerd rage, it occurred to me that the same can be said about New York City FC.

With a seemingly infinite amount of resources at their disposal and one of the most comprehensive scouting networks a club can ask for, NYCFC has only shown glimpses of being exceptional and far too often are indistinguishable from your average MLS team.

In six seasons, New York City has made the MLS Cup Playoffs all but once. Hell, Los Celestes has only finished lower than 2nd place in the Eastern Conference twice. Despite that, NYCFC has never progressed past the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The team has won only two fixtures in the U.S. Open Cup in six entries and have only progressed past the Fourth Round once.

Of the six players that City has given Designated Player contracts, only two can be considered viable gamechangers and one of them is now persona non grata in the Five Boroughs. The other can’t take a penalty to save his life, yet is constantly allowed to try.

While other clubs have almost symbiotic relations with the people who support them, NYCFC remains opaque. We hardly know where we’ll be playing until the last minute. The stadium situation is a recurring joke on Twitter. Shitty people who have done shitty things (see above “persona non grata” link for details) are allowed to stay employed.

Oh, and the on-field product isn’t much better either.

What could have been NYCFC’s defining year as a professional football club in 2020 was instead marred by their worst regular season performance since their inaugural season in 2015, managing only a 5th place finish in the Eastern Conference. Furthermore, their first-ever appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League was a disaster. While it started nicely enough with a relatively easy draw against AD San Carlos, City were embarrassed by Tigres UANL — eventual winners of the competition — by an aggregate scoreline of 5-0.

And in case you were wondering, NYCFC were bounced out of the MLS Playoffs the first time of asking against Orlando City.

This mediocrity came despite the club maintaining the entirety of their usual starting lineup following a brilliant 2019 campaign that should’ve ended in the team at least coming close to silverware. But new coach Ronny Deila — the guy that took over once Domé Torrent yeeted himself out after being frustrated with upper management — couldn’t make due with that. Instead, we were treated to Alexander Ring — one of the league’s premier defensive midfielders — playing at left wing for half of the pandemic-shortened season over a healthy (DP) Alexandru Mitrita.

Notice how I have only merely mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s because it is no excuse. The pandemic didn’t stop the Columbus Crew from being great throughout the year and winning an MLS Cup only a few years after the club was facing extinction. It didn’t stop Orlando City from finally turning in a quality, playoff-qualifying season. The fact is that every team was dealing with the same circumstances and risks in 2020. And NYCFC couldn’t handle the pressure.

Instead, they folded. Like they always do.

NYCFC is literally the EA Sports FIFA of the MLS. We’re aware of what it should be and what it can become. And each year, we buy into it in hopes that we’ll get that final product. But alas, no dice.