The bye week means different things for different Major League Soccer teams. For some, it’s an unwanted break from a good rhythm.
But for New York City FC, it meant getting some critical players back to full health.
On Monday morning, David Villa, Alex Ring and Ronald Matarrita were each fully integrated with the first team and NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said all three are available for selection for Wednesday’s matchup with Real Salt Lake at Yankee Stadium.
“The good thing not playing on the weekend allowed us to have some players getting back and do more training,” Vieira said. “It’s good to have everyone available.”
The only player not training with the first team was Kwame Awuah, who is out with a knee injury. But for the first time since Week 2, Villa, Ring and Matarrita are all healthy at the same time, which means Vieira has some interesting decisions to make with his lineup.
While a fully fit Villa and Ring are essentially locks for the starting 11, Matarrita has been behind Ben Sweat at left back. When the Costa Rican international has stepped on the field, including just six minutes before suffering a hamstring injury in Week 3 against Orlando City SC, it has been on the left wing.
Villa should make his first start since a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy in Week 2. A calf injury suffered in that game kept the Spanish legend sidelined for the next two games.
Villa was expected back for NYCFC’s last league game, a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in Week 5, but the captain was a late scratch after feeling back pain because “the adductor wasn’t feeling the best,” according to Vieira.
“We don’t want to take any risk for any players because we know how long the season is,” Vieira said.
Ring, who has been a stalwart No. 6 since for NYCFC since his arrival last year, suffered an MCL sprain and subluxation of the patella to his right knee with Finland during the international window.
It was initially believed Ring would be out for three to four weeks, but he was training on the side almost immediately after returning from Finland and has spent a few days fully practicing with the squad without incident.
NYCFC (4-0-1) provides a stiff test for Real Salt Lake (2-2-1), which will head to the Bronx on short rest after a gritty 2-1 home win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday. Luis Silva and Jefferson Savarino scored for RSL, which won just once in its first four games and bounced back from a 3-1 loss at Toronto.
“It’s five games in, we’re 2-2-1 now, we have 29 games left to go, so we’re not panicking or worrying,” Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke said Saturday night. “We just won 2-1, so we’re going to rejoice in that for the moment. We had a tough game, a quick turnaround against NYC on a small field against a very talented team.”