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New York City FC 2021 season preview: Impending failure or sleeping giant?

Hudson River Blue previews City’s upcoming 2021 MLS campaign

MLS: New York City FC at New England Revolution Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Last year sucked. Point blank period. Whether it was seeing COVID-19 evolve into a planetary shitstorm or watching New York City FC stink up the place for most of the year, I think everyone just wants to put the year 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror and move on to bigger things.

On the COVID front, despite some drama, things are starting to look up. Multiple vaccines have become available worldwide and people are being let back into sporting events. Things for NYCFC, however, don’t have as promising a path.

Coming off of statistically their worst season since their inaugural 2015 season, the Bronx Blues are at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to their future prospects. Very little in the way of signings have been made in the offseason gone by and the team will be splitting time between their usual home of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York and their rival’s house Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

But, despite the disarray, there are some signs of promise.

For one, NYCFC has had one their most encouraging preseasons to date. Some younger players such as Andres Jasson and Tayvon Gray have proven their worth at the top level. Team enigma Jesus Medina put together some solid shifts during preseason pleasantries, including a brace in City’s preseason finale against Hartford Athletic. Furthermore, the team as a whole has seemed to be a bit more organized than they were last season.

Now that we’ve gotten all the positive signs and concerns out of the way, here’s everything you need to know about NYCFC going into the 2021 MLS season.

New York City FC

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New York City FC Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach: Ronny Deila (2nd season)

2020 record: 39 points, 12-3-8 (W-D-L)

Conference standing: 5th in Eastern Conference

Playoff performance: Eliminated in First Round (0-1)

Roster Movement

Key additions

Andres Jasson (FWD) — signed from NYCFC Academy, Homegrown Player

Malte Amundsen (DEF) — transfer from Vejle Boldklub

Chris Gloster (DEF) — transfer from PSV Eindhoven

Cody Mizell (GK) — transfer from New Mexico United

Alfredo Morales (MID) — transfer from Fortuna Dusseldorf

Thiago Andrade (FWD) — transfer from Bahia

Key losses

Joe Scally (DEF) — transfer to Borussia Monchengladbach

Alexander Ring (MID) — trade to Austin FC in exchange for General Allocated Money (GAM)

Ronald Matarrita (DEF) — trade to FC Cincinnati in exchange for General Allocated Money (GAM)

Gary Mackay-Steven (FWD) — released, signed with Heart of Midlothian on free transfer

Brad Stuver (GK) — released, signed with Austin FC on free transfer

Juan Pablo Torres (MID) — loan to Austin Bold

Best offseason move

Thiago Andrade

By far the best piece of business NYCFC has done this offseason is bringing in forward Thiago Andrade from Brazilian club Bahia. If there was any spot where City was weakest in depth, it was in the attack. Thiago’s pickup ensures the forward positions have depth in the absence of primary striker Héber, who is still recovering from an ACL injury sustained last season and isn’t expected back until at least May.

At only 20 years old, Thiago seems to have all the tools a young forward needs — pace, technical ability, and a high work rate. The young Brazilian had standout performances for Bahia in the Brazilian Championship, Brazilian U-20 Championship, São Paulo Junior Football Cup and Brazil U-20 Cup. And though he lacks extensive first team experience, we expect him to bring a good dynamic to City’s current attacking setup.

2021 Predictions

Projected Starting XI:

  • GK: Sean Johnson
  • RB: Anton Tinnerholm
  • RCB: Maxime Chanot
  • LCB: Alexander Callens
  • LB: Gudi Þórarinsson
  • RDM: James Sands
  • LDM: Keaton Parks
  • RW: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi
  • CAM: Maxi Moralez
  • LW: Andres Jasson
  • ST: Taty Castellanos

Prior to the last week, I would have predicted new signing Malte Amundsen to get the start at left back over Gudi. But with the Dane not getting on a plane to New York until April 10, I feel Gudi will have to do for now.

Despite signing Alfredo Morales and him being earmarked by some to be Alex Ring’s heir apparent at the No. 6 position, I don’t think James Sands can be supplanted from his spot at defensive midfielder. Ronny Deila & Co. also experimented with Sands in the middle of a 3-back formation against Hartford Athletic on Saturday, and the results didn’t seem too promising. Too often, City were unable to advance the ball into dangerous positions and were instead being forced to play emergency defense to keep the clean sheet in what ultimately became a 2-0 win for the Boys in Blue. Until proven otherwise, Sands is the man at DM.

Andres Jasson was one of the breakthrough young talents of the preseason, often getting himself into dangerous areas and either drawing fouls or setting up goals, He even scored one of his own against D.C. United. Had Thiago Andrade’s transfer come in a week or two earlier than it did, I’d say he was a good shout to start. But Jassen has proven himself worthy of significant minutes this season. Don’t think a starting gig is out of the question.

Jesus Medina could factor into proceedings. And in all fairness, he seemed to fare far better in Deila’s system in 2020 than he has in the past. But it’s too little, too late in our opinion.

Reasons to be worried about NYCFC: We still don’t know exactly how the club will play. At times, Ronny Deila seemed to have a good idea on how to get NYCFC going on both sides of the ball. But too often, City seemed disjointed, confused, and lethargic.

Without a true identity, things can only go wrong for the Boys in Blue in 2021. Their success depends on whether or not Deila is up to scratch as the man in charge. And, as much as we’d like to, Deila hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt just yet.

Why NYCFC is worth watching: What NYCFC lack in star power, they more than make up for in fundamentally sound role players and younger guys who are beginning to show exactly how high their ceilings really are. Maxi Moralez is one of the more fun playmakers in the league to watch. James Sands is a stud Homegrown defensive midfielder and will probably be moving to Europe sooner rather than later. And Anton Tinnerholm is by far the best right back in MLS, point blank period.

Another fun tidbit is that as of right now, New York City has two free Designated Player slots. This means there is the potential of some eye opening additions once the summer window opens. Even if they aren’t the best in the league — or even their conference — right out of the gate, there are few MLS clubs with higher upside than NYCFC.