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Know Thy Enemy: The British (Owned Soccer Team) Are Coming, Again

The squad from Manchester, England, currently quartered in New York City, moves up the coast in an attempt to continue their dominant 2018 start. Can NYCFC break through in Fortress Foxboro though?

MLS: New York City FC at New England Revolution Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Today is a special day. I’m watching a Revs game in person. In New England.

That last qualifier doesn’t happen a lot, because a three hour drive versus a two-hour train ride into NY/NJ is way easier for me from my post at TBM’s Connecticut headquarters. So if you want to swing by the supporters lot or where ever I am before the game and say “Hi” please do. I’ll be easy to find.

I’ll be wearing a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt. Onto important things...

Jake Gofman from Hudson River Blue is here and we delve into the mystery of what makes New York City FC good and why they can’t win a playoff series. Can NYCFC pull off a successful result without David Villa?

As always, check out HRB for my answers to other Jake’s questions.

TBM: So David Villa is carrying a knock. Surely Patrick Viera would not risk his prized striker on the frozen tundra of Gillette Stadium...but how close is Villa to returning and how might NYCFC cope without him?

HRB: You jest, but there’s a lot of truth in it. Villa is getting up there in age (36!) and a prolonged absence from the captain and former MVP would be devastating to the club. NYC added some veteran depth at forward in the off-season, but I shudder to think of this team without Villa for an extended period of time. For that reason, and because Villa hasn’t returned to training yet, I could see Vieira playing it safe this weekend.

That said, we fared better than expected against Orlando last weekend without Villa. The offense was less focused through the center but the midfield movement was tremendous and the wingers had strong games. I’m not sure how sustainable that effort is moving forward, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

TBM: So it’s a 3-0 start and top of the Eastern Conference for NYC, it’s early, but what’s been working so far for this team in March?

It’s hard to single out any one player or group because the team as a whole is playing very well and, more importantly, with cohesion. NYCFC has scored more than two in every game and conceded only one goal so far.

If I had to point to one thing though, it’s the midfield. NYC FC seemed to have assembled their midfield of the future last off-season, and that group played very well last year and helped propel New York to its second place finish. However, with MLS, there’s a learning curve for most players, so coming into this season, a lot is expected from the combination of Maxi Moralez, Alexander Ring, and Yangel Herrera. So far, the trifecta has delivered.

Specifically, it’s been Moralez and Ring that have been most impressive. Moralez seems much more comfortable in his creator role. He’s being relied on less to track back, freeing him up to make deeper runs into the opponent’s final third. Ring, meanwhile, is the dream “number 8” player. He seems to be everywhere at all times, so far averaging 3.3 tackles and 4.3 interceptions per game. Fortunately for New England and the rest of MLS, Ring picked up a serious knock in international duty, and is expected to be out for some time.

TBM: It’s still really early, but let’s assume NYC is in the playoffs again. Besides avoiding Toronto, how does this team get over the hump and get a playoff series win?

This is not an easy question to answer. I don’t think there is a specific thing, tactical or otherwise, that New York could do to ensure a series win. The team seems to have the talent to pull off a run, but anything can happen in the postseason, and that was evident when NYC suffered an early red and a lopsided loss to Columbus last season.

What might make the difference this year is experience. This is year two for the midfield as I mentioned in the last answer, as well as year two for the centerback pairing. I think the continuity the club has been fortunate to have makes a big difference and may be the factor that gets NYCFC over the hump.

Lineups/Injuries/Predictions/Etc.

Alexander Ring and Rodney Wallace are on international duty. Ronald Matarrita has been ruled out, while David Villa remains questionable.

Starting XI: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Ofori, Herrera, Moralez; Tajouri, Berget, Medina

This is banged up NYC FC squad already (somehow), but the defense is still there. This ends 1-1, but it’s NE that’s the more threatening team.