KANSAS CITY, MO – Fans have long awaited the start of the 2018 season, and they’ll have a new-look New York City FC to lead them through it. Our beloved Pigeons open the year on the road against the defensively-stout Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park at 7:30pm EST.
Work It Harder, Make It Better
Patrick Vieira and Claudio Reyna did a lot to shore-up the weakest parts of the City lineup in the offseason. Anton Tinnerholm – the reigning Allsvenskan Defender-of-the-Year – was brought in from Malmö FF to give some much-needed balance to our attacking fullbacks and introduce some dynamic attacking options. An open Designated Player spot – vacated by the retiring Andrea Pirlo – was filled with NYCFC’s first-ever Young Designated Player Jesus Medina, in hopes of capturing some of the magic shown by fellow Paraguayan Miguel Almiron. Medina will have some added pressure on him thanks to the winter departure of fan-favorite Jack Harrison leaving a hole of indeterminate size in the City attack. We’ll get a glimpse of just how big that hole is Sunday night.
The rest of the City Starting XI will look familiar to fans. Sean Johnson remains the starter in goal, while Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens and Ronald Matarrita join Tinnerholm in rounding out the back line. The midfield will likely remain the steadfast trio of Maxi Moralez, Alexander Ring and Yangel Herrera – though Herrera’s spot might be in the crosshairs of late winter loanee Ebenezer Ofori.
Joining Medina on the attacking front will be the man who needs no introduction, Captain David Villa – the man who has led this team and represented this league with dignity and class, and been an indispensable role model for the younger generation playing along side him. The third spot in the front three will likely be filled by Rodney Wallace, though options remain should he falter. Newcomer Jo Inge Berget has been floated as a possible winger, though he will be sidelined by a leg injury for the opener. Ismael Tajouri – who’s impressed with his work rate in the preseason – may also feature as your first attacking sub off the bench.
Boys in Blue Welcome Blue Hell
SKC is lucky enough to have a clean bill of health entering their home opener. Peter Vermes saw fit to trade for NYCFC’s first-ever SuperDraft pick in Khiry Shelton, and seems to want to convert the young American into a true striker (Shelton was playing as the #9 in KC’s final preseason match, but was removed from the game with a contusion only 11 minutes in). Regardless, it’s unlikely Shelton will get the start against his former team.
Kansas City is returning most of the team that stood out as one of the stingiest defenses in MLS last season. Tim Melia will be in net behind the formidable back line of Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler and Cristian Lobato. Revamping their anemic attack from last year, Vermes has brought in Yohan Croizet as a new #10, replacing the departing KC mainstay Benny Feilhaber. Joining Croizet will be Johnny Russell and Felipe Gutierrez – all three bringing changes to the attack from the last time the two clubs clashed.
Playing SKC once per season so far, the home side is ahead with two wins to one, with NYCFC getting the better end most recently in September of last year in which they won 1-0. We will learn a lot from this match: Can someone other than Villa find the back of the net? Will Jesus Medina be the difference-maker we need him to be? Can they City back line – which started off excellent in 2017 – recapture the same mojo that made them so formidable?
Based on what I’ve seen in the preseason, the attack hasn’t convinced me yet.