clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Revolution vs. NYCFC 2015 Preview: Questions with Hudson River Blue

New, 1 comment

We sat down with our new sister blog Hudson River Blue's Rafael Noboa y Rivera to discuss all things NYCFC ahead of their historic home opener against the Revs.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

1.) NYC was, to some people (me), Don Garber's white whale. He sold his soul to Manchester City to get it, and now between the lack of a stadium future and the Lampard saga, it looks like Moby Dick might be his undoing. From your perspective as a fan and someone closer to the situation, though, what's the mood and feeling about the club, its ownership situation, and its future in the Five Boroughs? Is there any lingering fear among the faithful that this could turn out to be a situation somewhat like Chivas USA, or worse? (I realize you could write a whole series of stories on that, but give me your best shot)

That's a great question. No doubt, there are fans who are very wary of Manchester City's involvement in the club, and the Lampard fiasco did nothing to allay those fears. Nor did the unveiling of a home jersey that essentially mimics Manchester City's, or the myriad little things the club has done that ring tone-deaf to New York City fans, like trying to come up with a collective name for the fans.

But the vast majority of fans are just happy to see local soccer played inside New York City. It helps that the club is really proactive about learning from its errors, and iterates constantly in an effort to find the sweet spot. The Lampard imbroglio, for instance, was followed up pretty quickly by the club signing Mix Diskerud, who's a fan favorite.

When you compare the amount of care City Football Group takes in helping to establish this club, there's simply no comparison between New York City and Chivas USA. At best, Chivas operated in a state of benign neglect from Jorge Vergara; at worst, his meddling resulted in a broken club that, eventually, had to be rebooted.

I think someone else put it best about CFG's involvement: they are deeply interested and invested in New York City; what they are not is emotional about that interest and involvement. Is that good or bad? I get that fans would prefer some kind of emotional caring, but if the lack of that element means that New York City winds up becoming a flagship team to rival the LA Galaxy, I don't think many people would complain.

2.) Mix Diskerud scored the team's first MLS goal, and it was a beauty. Just how crucial will it be to NYCFC that he succeeds in midfield, and do you see him as the driving force in the club's engine room?

Very, very crucial. But he won't be the driving force -- at least, not yet.

I've long insisted that Mix tends to be ill-positioned by coaches. He's not a "number 10", because he lacks the kind of offensive vision needed in that position; the eye for the killer final pass to the forwards. He's not a "number 8", because he doesn't have that kind of engine, and he's not a "number 6", because he can be shoddy on defense. He's at his best operating on the right (or left, but really right), off the shoulder of a number 8 or number 6, keeping the ball circulating.

Here's the thing: that's just a guess. No one really knows. If you look at his passing chart from Sunday, even though he completed 96% of his passes, the vast majority of them were horizontal. That meant David Villa was starved for service, and had to keep dropping back to collect the ball.

So: what changed? The introduction of Khiry Shelton for training ground superstar Mehdi Ballouchy.

When Shelton entered the game, that meant that New York City went from playing a 4-4-2 diamond to playing in more of a 4-3-3. Shelton took up Ballouchy's spot on the right. Not only that, but he freed Mix up to roam, whilst letting Grabavoy stay in the left and Jacobson drop deeper in the middle. Shelton's presence and attacking forays also meant that Brek Shea couldn't get away with making buccaneering runs on offense; in turn, that unclogged the middle of the field, giving New York City's midfield more space to operate vertically.

My guess is that Kreis is still trying to figure out where Mix fits in best. So are we all. If Lampard had been with New York City from the start, then this would be much less of a question; but as it stands, Mix is the X-factor.

3) David Villa may not have scored, but he looked dangerous. His pedigree is undeniable, but do you think he's going to get the service he needs to sweep through the league and challenge for scoring titles? Does he even need to do that?

That's one of the many key questions facing this team. I mentioned Mix's passing horizontality on Sunday, but in truth, he wasn't the only offender. New York City's midfield was pretty one-dimensional, and lacked speed on the wings. Ballouchy was anonymous, Mix dropped back from being a "number 10" to somewhere around a "number 6" -- the list goes on.

The overall problem, though, was Villa was utterly starved of service for the entire first half. It wasn't until Khiry Shelton entered the game that New York City's midfield gained some element of fluency. So whilst Villa might've looked dangerous, he wasn't.

If New York City are aiming for the playoffs -- never mind trophies -- then Kreis needs to figure out how to get Villa the service he needs. Otherwise, the Gotham Blues are going be repeating that first half against Orlando the way Bill Murray relived Groundhog Day.

4.) I watched the match against Orlando City, and Khiry Shelton came on and made a huge impact in that game. Where do you see his future with the team? Could he become a starter by season's end, assuming he doesn't hit a rookie wall?

He's an instrumental player. Of that, there's less and less doubt. He came on against Orlando in the preseason, and jolted New York City's offense; he did the same thing against the Lions on Sunday.

What gets overlooked about Shelton is that he isn't just a scorer; for a collegiate player, he's got phenomenal vision. In his last season with Oregon State, Shelton scored ten goals; he also had 12 assists over 20 games. In his junior season, he assisted 12 times over 18 games. He's an intelligent passer who adds penetration.

In short: he operates far more like a "number 10" than he does as a striker. Because New York City lack that kind of player in either their midfield or forward corps, it's easy for me to say he's got a solid future with the team.

Will he start? That's a different question. He's definitely got the potential, but that's more dependent on how New York City's roster looks as the year wears on. Will players like Adam Nemec (who was fairly incompetent in front of goal, and hasn't shown much as a striker) stick around?

5.) Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.

The easy answer is Kwadwo Poku, but he hasn't seen any real playing time after New York City's European sojourn.

To me, it's someone that Revs fans might barely know, if only for his nine immortal minutes of service to the cause: Tony Taylor.

Shelton's been the impact sub for New York City, but during the preseason, it was Taylor who partnered best with Villa up top. A big, fast right winger, Taylor scored once in the preseason, and generally proved to be a handful for other teams in the box. He held up the ball, was able to cross, and generally checked all the boxes you'd want checked for someone to play with Villa.

That's why it was so surprising to see Kreis start someone like Nemec over Taylor. To be blunt: Nemec was utterly incompetent in front of goal. There is nothing, based on game-day footage, that Nemec brings to the table over Taylor. Taylor is three inches shorter, and fifteen pounds shorter, but that's about it.

Taylor is faster, more intelligent with the ball, is just as physical in the box, and holds up just as well. Maybe Nemec is demonstrating something in training that Taylor isn't, but games aren't won on the training pitch. The sport is littered with players who are practice legends and game-day frauds, and in his career, Nemec seems to be that.

Maybe Taylor is, too. But there's no way of knowing without finding out during a game. Why not now? Every report I've read indicates that the only reason Taylor was surplus to requirements in New England was due to the rise of Charlie Davies and Teal Bunbury; why not find out if Taylor can be that? And that's without even factoring the psychological element -- you don't think Taylor would love to show the Revs what they missed out on?

Sure beats watching Nemec treat the ball like Superman treats kryptonite, and watching him hoof it into low earth orbit.