We’re back with another Three Questions series with our rival blog for the weekend as we welcome in Jake Gofman from Hudson River Blue. FC Dallas takes on New York City FC tomorrow night on FS1 and we dive in to what makes City one of the tougher teams from the Eastern Conference.
BDS: Once again NYCFC are one of the stronger offensive teams in MLS in 2017. How has the offense progressed so far this year as compared to last season?
HRB: There's a different look to NYC's offense this year, maybe less firepower than in years past but also more consistency. Last year we rode David Villa's MVP season, had a stretch where Frank Lampard was playing like it was 2005, and generally got sporadic contributions from a cast of attacking players. New York had an attack-minded outlook last year, to say the least, and it helped us score a lot of goals but also concede a lot as well. This season, production is spread across more offensive players and it looks much more sustainable. Plus, having a cast of dynamic players translates to more chances and more players the opposition has to worry about. Sure, we are still fueled by David Villa's and everything he can do, but Jack Harrison has fully avoided the sophomore slump, Rodney Wallace has been a great addition at winger, and Maxi Moralez is living up to the preseason hype as our biggest signing, chipping in two goals and three assists.
One thing we haven't had to deal with but may prove to be a concern is depth. We've avoided the injury bug thus far this season, so we've not had to do much digging into the roster. However, I worry about how the offense will perform missing any of Villa, Maxi, or Jack. For what it's worth, Villa sat out against Columbus and the offense replaced his quality with a collective pressing attitude that netted us three goals. That performance certainly dampened my concerns, but a one-off performance isn't the best barometer.
BDS: What has been the biggest surprise (both good and bad) to NYCFC so far this season?
HRB: I'll start with the negative, which is Andrea Pirlo. Coming into this season, the collective fan base was hoping to get one more solid season out of Pirlo. In 2016, il Maestro's mobility had deteriorated significantly, but he was crafty enough to provide some defensive help. His offensive skill set was still there, and he was combining really well with David Villa and the other attackers, creating dangerous chances. His presence in the midfield helped us control that part of the game, as his passing ability remained elite.
2017 Pirlo is nowhere near the form of 2016 Pirlo. In the matches he's appeared in, this iteration of Pirlo is a defensive turnstile, effectively putting New York a man down in the midfield defending their opponents. Offensively, Pirlo has not been able to impact the game as much as he has in the past, creating very few chances and turning the ball over far more often. While his passing remains world-class, the rest of his game has made him such a liability that Vieira has been forced to bench him. It's sad because he's a legend, and I think we all wanted to see him go out on his own terms.
Lots of positives to take from our start to 2017, the best of which I'd say is Alexander Ring. Ring, a Finnish CM, came over from Bundesliga 2 this summer and I didn't really know what to expect. Since day one, he's been playing the number 8 role in our midfield exquisitely, ranging from box to box, making key tackles and kick-starting the attack from deep in the midfield. His style of play and quality has been something NYC has been severely lacking since its inception, and he's been a stabilizing force for us in the center of the park.
BDS: What is one key for NYCFC to win Sunday's game on the road?
HRB: FC Dallas is a really tough team to break down and score on, and NYC needs goals to win games still. The defense has improved in a big way from 2016 to 2017, but I think we'll need at least two goals to take the three points Sunday. As such, I'm going to focus on the offense, and say the key to this one will be Maxi Moralez. The Argentine CAM is the dangerous player in the midfield, and he needs to have a great game if we hope to win. He is the link between the rest of the midfield and the likes of David Villa, Jack Harrison and Rodney Wallace, so his ability to keep the ball and deliver key passes is going to be the difference maker Sunday. If Dallas can keep Maxi quiet and off the ball, or even force him to help in the defense, I think New York will likely take the L.
Lineup projection: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, White; Herrera, Moralez, Ring; Wallace, Villa, Harrison