Inside MLS 2015 Season Preview: New York City FC
Last year in a sentence: Jason Kreis and Claudio Reyna spent last season laying the groundwork for the club's debut and the Expansion Draft in December.
Offseason in a sentence: NYCFC lurched from snafu to snafu on its way to constructing its roster for the upcoming season.
(as of March 3)
Notable signings: Javier Calle (loan from Independiente Medellin/Colombia), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Ned Grabavoy (Real Salt Lake), Andres Mendoza (CD Maldonado/Uruguay), Adam Nemec (Union Berlin), Kwadwo Poku (Atlanta Silverbacks), Josh Saunders (free transfer), David Villa (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Josh Williams (Columbus Crew SC), Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lakeé
David Villa must elude defenders consistently to give NYCFC a reliable threat in the final third.
Key player: The decision to sign David Villa last summer gave NYCFC a genuine star to lead the line during its expansion season. Villa remains a cunning operator capable of locating spaces and punishing defenders for switching off in their own third. His brief spell in the A-League offered a reminder of his enduring class. He must score reliably to provide NYCFC with a chance to make a playoff push.
Philosophy: The marriage between City Football Group and Kreis is grounded on their mutual desire to operate in possession and play expansively. Kreis preferred a 4-4-2 diamond in midfield during his time with RSL and leaned on the same shape during much of preseason, but he will experiment with other shapes -- including 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 -- as the circumstances dictate.
Strengths: This new side boasts a core of experienced players to offer a firm grounding for their first campaign. Kreis raided his former club for savvy veterans Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert to reinforced the demands set forth. Grabavoy, in particular, will play a critical role in a midfield expected to retain the ball more often than not. Mix Diskerud offers a creative influence capable of carving open the opposition, while Frank Lampard supplies a threat to charge into the penalty area at the right times to support the play. Villa presents a menacing threat with his enduring class and his potent work inside the final third. Kreis boasts alternatives up from with promising second-year forward Patrick Mullins and the robust Adam Nemec.
Weaknesses: NYCFC faces the inevitable challenges of building a squad for the long haul. The inevitable holes in the roster leave Kreis short of the necessary depth, particularly at the back. Central defense stands out as the area of most acute concern despite some resolute displays during preseason. There is also a concern about the lack of a physical element in midfield. Kreis' teams at RSL benefited from the considerable presence afforded by Kyle Beckerman. At the moment, there isn't a similar figure to backstop the work on the ball here.
NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis will expect his midfielders to keep possession reliably regardless of the shape of the team.
* Which shape works best for this group? Kreis continues to assess a variety of tactical options in the buildup to the opening match against expansion brethren Orlando City. At the moment, the favored 4-4-2 diamond looks the most likely choice. If Kreis indeed opts for that setup, then NYCFC must work carefully on its rotations to ensure the midfield terrain is covered properly and the stage is set for Diskerud to exert his influence over the match. Grabavoy's knowledge will prove crucial here.
* Where does Lampard fit when he arrives? The rotations in central midfield adopt a whole new look with the former England international in the fold. Lampard presents a goal threat from midfield, but his ability to cover to ground remains decidedly in question. Kreis might need to adjust accordingly to compensate for the alterations and provide Lampard with the latitude to do what he does best.
* Is the defense strong enough to cope when NYCFC concedes possession? NYCFC opted for seasoned MLS campaigners to form the bedrock of its defense. Kreis knows exactly what to expect from the likes of Wingert, Jeb Brovsky, Jason Hernandez, Josh Williams. The group as a whole will pick up the right spots off the ball, but there are potential issues on the break against teams with mobile forwards.
Best-case scenario: NYCFC hits the ground running in Orlando and uses the positive start to set an encouraging course. This group implements its desired approach in possession and reaps the expected benefits. Villa finds the scoresheet early and often, while the defense manages to restrict the opposition well enough to transform those goals into victories. The end product leads to a sustained push toward the playoffs.
Worst-case scenario: Orlando City exposes some of the frailties on opening day and underscores the hard work ahead. Opponents dictate the terms of the game and play through midfield too readily. The defense cracks under the consistent pressure. Villa finds himself stranded for long stretches without the requisite service. Lampard takes the field intermittently once he arrives in the summer. Loss after loss piles up as NYCFC trudges through a painful first season.