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Will NYCFC break character, sign a big-name player?

New York City FC sporting director David Lee tends to keep a low profile during the transfer window, but major acquisitions by other clubs might force him to act

Sporting director Dave Lee speaks during celebration for...
NYCFC sporting director David Lee usually remains behind the scenes.
Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

By now, fans of New York City FC should be accustomed to how the cub functions in the transfer market: Silent, confident, a little distant. For the most part, you don’t hear about a trade until the deal has been signed, notarized, and ready to be presented to the public. Sporting director David Lee runs a tight ship.

That understated professionalism is the only thing that sets NYCFC apart from other clubs in MLS that live to ride the hype train. New York City almost entirely ignore the industry calendar, signing a player when the right match presents itself. The MLS summer transfer window might have opened today, but it doesn't mean a lot to this team.

That puts NYCFC fans in an odd position right now. While the rest of the league is losing their collective minds over the most exciting, eventful, and most likely impactful summer transfer window in MLS history – Giacomo Vrioni from Juventus to New England Revolution! Alejandro Pozulo from Toronto FC to Inter Miami! Federico Bernardeschi from Juventus to Toronto?!? – New York City will probably sit this one out and not make a signing.

If anything, NYCFC fans are eagerly anticipating the news that their club has sold their best player when they find Taty Castellanos a suitable team in Europe — and will receive a $15 million brand transfer in exchange. It’s a through-the-looking-glass transfer window when your biggest hope is for your top goalscorer to move to a good club because it will reflect well on NYCFC, and you fully expect no replacement to come through.

On the one hand, you have to admire Lee’s sangfroid. His biggest offseason acquisition was signing center-back Thiago Martins from Yokohama F Marinos back in February. Thiago Martins took a little bit of time to settle in, but his ability to organize and marshal the defense was a big part of NYCFC’s run of six consecutive clean sheets.

Since then, Lee has made just one other major acquisition. In March, he signed right-winger Gabriel Pereira from Corinthians. It was a good move - Gabriel Pereira can run hot and cold but the 20-year-old has a quality NYCFC have lacked on the right side since Jack Harrison left for Manchester City Leeds.

But are those two acquisitions enough for a club that expects to make a run at a second consecutive MLS Cup, and maybe even lift the Supporters’ Shield? While LAFC is bulking up for a title run by signing legendary center-back Giorgio Chiellini and the enigmatic but brilliant Gareth Bale and are reportedly in contention to bring former Manchester United forward Jesse Lindgard to Banc of California Stadium – NYCFC have remained characteristically silent.

Remember, NYCFC lost four key players in the offseason: Jesús Medina, James Sands, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and Gudi Thorarinsson all figured prominently in New York City’s championship season. Now that Keaton Parks is once again sidelined after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot, NYCFC’s roster is looking thin.

Last year, Lee transformed the team by making five signings that proved to be instrumental to winning the league title: New York City acquired Malte Amundsen in February, Thiago in April, Alfredo Morales in April, Talles Magno in May, and Santiago Rodruíguez in June. Every one of those players contributed enormously to the club’s playoff run.

Will Lee break character and make a marquee signing in this transfer window? In all likelihood, no. The rumor mill that links Lindgard to LAFC believes he could end up at NYCFC, but the pundits feel he will likely sign with LA Galaxy. Besides, Lee’s great gift is to take fun advantage of the City Football Group scouting network and find young, undervalued, talented players who prove themselves to be more impactful than the big names that grab headlines.

And then there’s the sticky question of Designated Players: It could be that NYCFC have two active DPs (Talles Magno and Thiago Martins), but according to NYCFC’s official roster there are four DPs, including Maxi Moralez (who the club said was not signed to a DP contract), and Alexandru Mitriță (whose loan with Greek club PAOK just ended, and who is said to be looking to return to NYCFC). Two DPs and NYCFC could theoretically sign Ronaldo, four DPs and Lee is in for a stern talking-to from MLS commissioner Don Garber. (We reached out to NYCFC to ask for clarification on the matter of DPs, and are waiting for a response.)

The question remains: Will Lee bring in any new players?

Right now, NYCFC’s squad is looking a little tired, and a little static. The quality is there, but so is the tendency to fall into a familiar pattern of keeping possession but not creating chances. New York City needs some new blood.

We trust that Lee will continue to be inscrutable and conduct club business in private, but we hope that he sees that Homegrown Players won’t be the secret to NYCFC turning around this recent run of poor form and grabbing the season by the scruff of the neck. Earlier today, a Hudson River Blue roundtable issued midterm grades to the club, and gave the front office a B+, B, and C-. While that’s not great, there’s more than enough time to turn around the season. We know from past experience that Lee is an A student when he applies himself.

We’re looking forward to learning all about the new players Lee will sign this summer.