Hey Nation fans! Back in March I wrote about some questions I had about New York City FC heading into the 2019 season. 5 months, and 34 matches, later I finally have some answers to those questions. Give it a read and feel free to share your thoughts on these same questions with me on Twitter. Enjoy!
1) Who will be the face of the organization?
David Villa’s departure following the conclusion of the 2018 season not only left a huge hole on the playing field, but in the organization as well. Villa was the first player officially signed by the club back in 2014, a year before NYCFC even played its first game. Other designated players followed, like Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, but Villa was the face of the organization. With Villa gone, who is the new face of the club? Some might argue that Alex Ring can fill that void. He made his first All-Star team appearance last year and, entering his third season with the club, was named NYCFC’s new captain. Maxi Moralez is another player that could step into this role. Arguably the team MVP during the 2018 season, Maxi put together his best season for NYCFC with 8 goals and 16 assists. City’s newest Designated Player, Alexandru Mitriță is another likely choice. Signed to the third largest transer fee in MLS history, Mitrita has already given supporters much to look forward to. We’ve already seen a pair of golazos in his first two preseason games.
UPDATE: You could argue that Captain, Alex Ring, is the face of the franchise. He’s certainly a leader in the locker room and on the field. Following the September 25th win versus Atlanta United, Ring addressed the audience at Yankee Stadium, just as David Villa had done in previous seasons. Maxi Moralez stepped up his game to another level this year and showed DP quality, becoming only the third player in MLS history with 20 or more assists. So who’s the face of the franchise? In my opinion Heber is that person. Fans love goal scorers and nobody on NYCFC did it as consistently as Heber. Heber also brings an electric personality and smile that lights up Yankee Stadium.
2) Will Dome Struggle or Succeed?
If you had one word to describe former coach, Patrick Vieira’s tactical style you’d probably use the word “consistent.” Domé Torrent? Not so much. The ever-tinkering Torrent joined NYCFC after the departure of Vieira and spent the remainder of the 2018 season trotting out formation after formation in a never-ending attempt to find lightning in a bottle. During the 2018 season Domé toyed with 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-diamond-2, and a couple of brief flirtations with a three-back system. Domé was quoted as saying, “I want to create the style, but maybe it’s better next year. If you want to create a certain style, you need the right players to be able to play in the style. I am very happy — very, very happy, believe me — with my players because they fight until the last minute. … But for example, if I want to play with 4-3-3, I need two wingers.”With the addition of newly acquired designated player Alexandru Mitrita, and the return of Taty Castellanos, Jesus Medina, and Jonathan Lewis, NYCFC has that formidable group of wingers that should provide the play Torrent wants. He’s now had an offseason to hand select players and an entire preseason to impart his preferred style of play. Fans won’t be as forgiving in year two and Dome will be out of excuses if the team gets off to a rough start. Fans won’t put up with the constant tinkering and lineup changes unless it leads to winning results on the pitch.
UPDATE: Following a disastrous six match start without a win, Dome Torrent turned his NYCFC coaching career around. Over the final 28 matches, NYCFC was 18-5-5, averagine 2.10 points per match. Dome showed the ability to adjust tactically in a game, despite long stretches without injured players like Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, James Sands, and Heber. The rigidity of Patrick Vieira’s system was replaced with a sublime ability to tailor NYCFC’s lineup and formation on a game by game basis to defeat opponents. Torrent coached NYCFC to their first wins in the US Open Cup and a first place finish in MLS’ Eastern Conference. Everything came up “pineapples” for Dome in 2019.
3) Will NYCFC Front Office be More Transparent?
When Jon Patricof stepped down as President of NYCFC in December of 2018, Brad Sims stepped in as new CEO of the club. For the past two months most supporters haven’t heard a single word from Sims, with the exception of a Q&A with NYCFC’s own, Mark Booth. In the article, Sims told Booth that he would be spending the next few months on a “listening tour,” meeting with people most connected to the club. That started recently with City Select (premium seating) members at NYCFC offices and most recently, at a Town Hall meeting with a small group of supporters at the Helen Mills Theater in Manhattan.
Fans are growing increasingly frustrated with the front office that seems to lack leadership and direction. Claudio Reyna has not addressed the roster construction, there hasn’t been a single mention of a stadium update since July of 2018, and the neo-nazi / white supremacist issue was never formally addressed by the club. A little openness and honesty on these topics and more would create some long-needed goodwill between the organization and supporters.
UPDATE: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. The first year of Brad Sims’ tenure as CEO of NYCFC has been nothing short of a disaster. Sims, whose only interview was through NYCFC.com told supporters he would spend time early in the season on a listening tour. As far as I know, that never happened. The only time he met with fans was at an event earlier this season, along with Claudio Reyna. The pair answered pre-selected questions that didn’t address the growing concerns of fans with regards to player transfers and stadium updates. On the stadium topic, there was some hope earlier on in the season when both Claudio Reyna and Yankees President Randy Levine told the media they hoped for an announcement before the end of the year. However, the soccer season is almost over and the calendar is three months away from 2020. Fans are still waiting for some news.
Many fans are also concerned with the possibility of playing MLS Cup, should NYCFC advance and LAFC falter, away from Yankee Stadium. As it stands today, both Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and Met-Life Stadium are unavailable the weekend of MLS Cup. This would leave Red Bull Arena and a long trip to Hartford as the next logical choices. Both would be disasters for the front office.
4) Will NYCFC Advance in the MLS Cup Playoffs and/or USOC?
NYCFC playoff and tournament troubles are well known to fans. Fans have suffered through the 4-0 shellacking by the Red Bulls last year in the US Open Cup and the 7-0 aggregate drubbing by Toronto in 2016 in the MLS Playoffs. Over their first four years NYCFC have won a total of two playoff games and have never advanced past the conference semifinals.
NYCFC will have to prove itself this year with big changes to the MLS Playoff format. Say so long to the two-leg playoff system of the past. There won’t be any reseeding as well. This year it will be imperative to finish in a top 3 position. With Atlanta likely to continue dominating the league, now with the addition of Pity Martinez, falling into the 4 or 5 seed would most likely mean facing Atlanta in the conference semifinals again in Atlanta for a single game elimination. Finishing second or third in the division would guarantee at least one home playoff game in the first round.
As for the US Open Cup, again, NYCFC has never advanced out of the fourth round. In the past, NYCFC has always been hurt by the USOC’s rules limiting clubs to 5 international spots on the roster. In 2018 we fielded a starting lineup that included players like Tommy McNamara, Cedric Hountondji (of blessed memory and 6 minutes of playing time), and Kwame Awuah. This year, thanks to new green cards for Jesus Medina, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Anton Tinnerholm, NYCFC currently carries only 4 international players. That means NYCFC can send out their best available lineup. This carries huge expectations for fans
UPDATE: For the first time in club history NYCFC advanced beyond the fourth round of the US Open Cup. NYCFC defeated North Carolina FC June 12th by a score of 4-0. Keaton Parks was the breakout star of the game, scoring two goals, and cementing him as a mainstay in the midfield. A week later, NYC defeated DC United at Audi Field in Washington, DC. Goals by Alexandru Mitrita and Tajouri-Shradi in the first half were enough to put NYCFC through to the next round. In the Cup quarter-finals on July 10th NYCFC finally hit a stumbling block at Orlando City. After dominating most of the match, NYCFC found themselves down to Orlando after a Chris Mueller goal in the 61st minute. With only seconds left in extra time, Maxi Moralez stunned the crowd with a goal in the 96th minute. NYC and Orlando would then play 30 minutes without a goal, moving the match to a penalty shootout. Unfortunately, NYCFC’s luck would run out. Orlando finished off New York City 5 goals to 4 goals.
5) How does NYCFC improve season tickets and their value?
Jump on StubHub right now and you’ll find tickets for several matches this season going for as little as $14 a ticket. Even tickets for this season’s derby versus the Red Bulls are going for slightly below face value. Any way you slice it, being a season ticket holder is about as rewarding as a soccer ball to the gut. NYCFC has even undercut season ticket holders with $10 ten match plans and something called Platform Passes back in 2017 that only cost $15. Meanwhile, the Cityzens account manager has been a disaster that has never been fixed. Fans don’t get the points they deserve, the rewards are repetitive and uninspiring, and recent rumors of its demise would mean that fans would lose out on all the points they have accrued. Instead of throwing ideas against the wall in hopes of improving attendance, NYCFC’s front office should be reaching out to fans to ask them what they want and how the game day experience can improve.
UPDATE: NYCFC didn’t really do anything to improve season tickets or their value. Ticket prices for the 2020 season remain similar to 2019 and very few other changes were made. NYCFC did introduce the City Blue Cards which give season ticket holders extra tickets to pass out to friends, family, and complete strangers if they so choose. These tickets can be redeemed for a future match, thus making it more difficult for season ticket holders to resell tickets on websites like StubHub. Other than that, I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything the front office has done to make it worth being a season ticket holder. The Cityzens website is unreliable, outdated, and rewards have been drastically cut back. Family friendly activities like face painting and balloon making have become repetitive and stale. Street fairs, which were promising in 2018, were infrequent in 2019. Heading into 2020, NYCFC’s front office has their work cut out for them if they want to stem the tide of fans dropping their plans.
6) Where’s our Striker?
David Villa, where art thou? As many predicted, NYCFC legend left for greener pastures in Japan during the offseason. Then surprisingly, at the end of January, Jo Inge Berget and the club agreed to mutually terminate his contract. This left a gaping hole at the center forward position that has yet to be filled. Speaking to the media on February 14, Torrent told reporters that it would be difficult to find a replacement for Villa’s production, but that they would hopefully find someone in 1 to 2 weeks. Then it was 3 to 4 days. Still two weeks have past and no magical striker has appeared. Rumors swirled on February 25th of a possible trade with LA Galaxy for Ola Kamara, but up to now they have only been rumors. Another possibility will be waiting until the summer transfer window and trying to bring in a player from Europe. NYCFC has plenty of international slots and TAM/GAM to play with. In any case, entering the season without a proper striker seems foolish to many and will leave NYCFC searching for goals.
UPDATE: I wrote about possibly trading for Ola Kamara?! Well, thank the good lord that didn’t happen. It took all the way until March 21st for NYCFC to announce that they had signed Brazilian striker, Heber. Instantly, Heber became the spark that turned NYCFC’s season around. With his trademark goal celebrations, Heber went on to score 15 goals and provided 3 assists in just under 1600 minutes of playing time. Heber drew attention from defenders and allowed Maxi Moralez the freedom to unlock our offense. Heber finished second in MLS’ Newcomer of the Year award and, with more playing time, probably would have been a serious contender for league MVP. NYCFC has their striker for now and the future in Heber.