Despite playoff ouster, NYCFC see positives for future

Nov 6, 2016; New York, NY, USA;  New York City FC forward David Villa (7) walks back up field as Toronto FC celebrates a goal during the first half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

The Bronx – There is some symmetry in the result and manner New York City FC were eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs. They lost 7–0 on aggregate to a team that pressed them in the midfield. But they also lost to a team that were themselves embarrassed in the playoffs just last year.

Toronto FC won their third playoff game of the year and in their history only a year removed from being on the end of a 3–0 dismantling at the hands of the Montreal Impact, who they will face in the Conference Final. In that loss in last year’s play-in round, Toronto’s Designated Players were contained, their defense was porous and their supporting cast showed its inexperience.

Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said his team’s recent success has gone a long way in developing a ‘winning culture’ within the club. A similar parallel can be drawn with NYCFC. Although they were second-best in their first playoff series, City making the playoffs in its second year is still a foundational accomplishment.

Patrick Vieira was timid in his approach to the playoffs but his confidence wore off on a maturing group of players.

“For me what was really important was to get the best from the player,” Vieira said. “I think the staff and myself, we managed to do it. Our objective was to qualify for the playoffs. We wanted to be a good team, a strong team who had a clear identity of how we wanted to play the game.”

Sporting director Claudio Reyna said City want to keep as many of their under-30 players as possible. Despite conceding seven times in the series, Eirik Johansen is set to assume the starting goalkeeper role and the club’s interest in other goalkeepers in MLS has waned. Maxime Chanot fits the club’s criteria for centerbacks but there are lingering questions about who could be his partner. Vieira said it was too soon to say if the club intends to enter the market, once-again, for a center back. Ronald Matarrita and R.J. Allen each played more than 1700 minutes but will need to improve their 1v1 defending for City to improve next year.

“[The loss] is something that we’ll take into the offseason,” Allen said. “But looking back on the season, we learned a lot and we learned a lot about our group. From year one to year two, we definitely improved but at the end of the day we still didn’t win the silverware and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.”

Up front, David Villa will return likely signing a contract extension. There remains strong interest from India for Steven Mendoza as his loan at NYCFC expires. Thomas McNamara flourished under Vieira’s tactical-based approach to training but his long-term future at the club may depend on if he can be effective playing in the middle. Khiry Shelton improved and is seen as a key player by the club but he would be the first to admit that he has to continue to develop into a consistent attacking threat.

“There’s always lessons to be learned,” Shelton said. “That’s what I know most of the guys are going to do, myself included. We’re going to walk away this but it hurts, it really hurts. We just want to use it as motivation for next year.”

NYCFC’s midfield situation is a mess. Frank Lampard’s contract will expire and it is unlikely to expect that the club would be willing to further its $6-million commitment. Andrea Pirlo faded during the final month of the season and bothered by a calf injury for the series. Neither player spoke to reporters after last night’s match.

The club also has to decide if investing in Mix Diskerud is part of their long-term plans. Federico Bravo and Mikey Lopez also have uncertain futures at the club although they each earned a start in the First Leg.

City’s collective inexperience and physical weakness led them to defeat against Toronto but the loss doesn’t undermine the progress the club has made in its second-year of play.

“We are a team that is only two years old,” Villa said. “All of you know what happened the first year. We improved a lot this year. In sport and in life, when you are new, you need to start humble, you need to start with a lot of work and day-by-day you improve. The team this year improved a lot from last year. We are happy and proud of that.”