New York City FC didn’t leave a good impression with fans during their inaugural campaign. Frank Lampard hadn’t actually signed for the club when his signing was announced, Andrea Pirlo for laughable indifference toward defense and the season ended with Jason Kreis getting sacked. Patrick Vieira righted the ship in 2016, though, and the Blues are entering this season targeting trophies.
Lampard has left, but Maxi Moralez — an excellent attacking midfielder still in his prime — has joined in his place. NYCFC has also upgraded in defense and at goalkeeper while retaining their attacking stars. Fans have every reason to believe they’ll be watching one of the league’s best teams in 2017.
Despite all that, Father Time is undefeated, and he’ll have his eyes on Pirlo and David Villa. The former was greatly improved last season, while the latter was named league MVP. Their team’s chances at success may hinge on their ability to turn in one last great season.
2016 record: 15-10-9, second in Eastern Conference
2016 playoffs: Lost in Eastern Conference semifinal to Toronto FC
Head coach: Patrick Vieira
Key additions: Maxi Moralez, Sean Johnson, Jonathan Lewis, Yangel Herrera
Key losses: Frank Lampard, Andoni Iraola
Projected starting XI (4-3-3): Sean Johnson; Ronald Matarrita, Federic Brilliant, Maxime Chanot, RJ Allen; Alexander Ring, Andrea Pirlo, Maxi Moralez; Tommy McNamara, David Villa, Jack Harrison
Major trophies won all-time: None yet ... but Villa won the league MVP last year!
What we think of our team: New York City fans know the game, demand a lot from their team, and fancy the club to be a contender in Year Three. You can call it impatience or even entitlement; we call it passion.
What outsiders think of our team: “Soccer fans outside of New York may see them as Man City Lite, but NYCFC finished second in the East last year, showing that there may be something to their attempts to buy some MLS hardware.”
NYCFC’s biggest rival: The Red Bulls. Yes, the results on the field have been seriously one-sided through six regular season contests to date, but the fans just hate each other. Even the managers hate each other. This is the one you always mark on the calendar.
Best social media follow: Mikey Lopez. When they started letting this guy take live video at events around the community, we saw the beginnings of a future pundit. Not to be missed.
Our season hinges on … finally figuring things out at the back. NYCFC led the league in goals scored in the 2016 regular season, but allowed nearly as many. Sean Johnson is surely an upgrade over Josh Saunders in goal, but the club still needs full-time solutions to emerge at defensive midfield and center back, positions which have presented far more questions than answers to date.
Why this year won’t be like last year: Vieira's build-from-the-back system felt like a grand misadventure all too often in 2016. An added year of familiarity promises smoother sailing this time around. It certainly helps to have a decidedly younger squad more amenable to learning some new tricks.
Key player: Moralez. The new designated player signing won't need to pick up all of Lampard's scoring load to prove his worth, but he will have to take as much heat as possible off of the 35-year-old Villa. The technical skill is absolutely there, but the diminutive playmaker will be tested by Major League Soccer's physicality. If he can manage to stay on his feet throughout the campaign, expect happy returns.
Projected finish in 2017: Second in the Eastern Conference.
Wild prediction: Ostensible third-string goalkeeper Andre Rawls makes at least one start and impresses between the sticks, becoming an overnight fan favorite with his own dedicated supporter group.