Draft complete, roster not for New York City FC

IMAGE, DAVE MARTINEZ FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by Christian Araos

The New York City FC triumvirate made another splash at the SuperDraft, but Claudio Reyna, Patrick Vieira and David Lee have more work to do if they are to resolve NYCFC’s issues and improve on their team.

Active at the Combine, City traded $250,000 of General Allocation Money to the Chicago Fire for the opportunity to choose Jonathan Lewis third overall. Another $75,000 went to the Seattle Sounders to re-acquire the 16th pick lost as part of the conditions made in the Kwadwo Poku trade two years earlier. That was used to select Kwame Awuah. Lewis could spend much of the first half of the season with the US U20s while Awuah projects to enter the league as a versatile depth option.

So that’s $325,000 of allocation money invested in two rookies and about $300,000 more invested in midfielder Mix Diskerud. Four goalkeepers, two designated players and one natural defensive midfielder are on the roster. Jefferson Mena may have been jettisoned but his move is not really addition by subtraction considering last season’s inconsistencies across the backline. NYCFC executed their long-term thinking last week but work remains in the short term.

The technical staff have spent the final week of the offseason scouting. Whether they can recruit Sami Khedira remains to be seen but even if they are successful, the chances of Khedira walking away from Juventus with Serie A and the Champions League still up for grabs are slim. Having ridden the rollercoaster, City are going to go for a younger player than Frank Lampard. Khedira or not, if that player isn’t with the team in Orlando on March 5 then the early part of this season may be the same as last.

Just as up-in-the-air as whether City will start the year with three DPs is Diskerud’s fate. He recently trained with Tromsø and has a return to the Tippelagen in his eventual plans. Norway may be the path back to the U.S. for him but any bid would have to meet City’s wishes. Vieira told ESPN FC that the two sides are trying to reach an agreement that benefits both sides. Although a Tippelagen return would bring him a chance to play more, Diskerud’s $750,000/year salary with NYCFC would make him one of the Norwegian league’s highest-earners, beyond what many teams can afford.

The reaction to the revelation of how much money NYCFC traded to the Fire, which in turn was traded to the New York Red Bulls, should show both how $300,000 of allocation money is seen around the league and why a possible trade remains unlikely. Not to mention the high probability that Diskerud has a no-trade clause which would conveniently explain why he was protected in the Expansion Draft. Per club and league policy, the existence of said clause cannot be confirmed. Repeated requests for comment from Diskerud’s representatives dating back to last June have gone unanswered.

In goal, City added Sean Johnson who instantly becomes their best option…out of four. The Expansion Draft would have provided an easy remedy but Atlanta United and Minnesota United chose other goalkeepers. Andre Rawls enters his second season with the club, nowhere nearer to playing time than he was when he signed. Meanwhile, Eirik Johansen is a highly-rated prospect who gave up nine goals in four competitive starts last year. Josh Saunders is under contract for next year but is likely to feature in a diminished role.

None of this would be a particularly big deal if MLS did not have strict roster rules and limits on the number of players a team can have on its roster. Lewis is the only one of the five draftees already signed, with Awuah likely next. Assuming Awuah’s youth club—Sigma FC—are on the league’s list of approved Canadian youth clubs, then he won’t count as an international player — good news for City, who don’t have any open at the moment. One will be free once Jack Harrison gets his green card but if there are any international signings to come this window, a trade will have to come first.

Although there is plenty of time to make a move, no signings are imminent. Surveying some of the holes in the roster, there are three centerbacks on the roster after Mena’s loan. At defensive midfield, Andoni Iraola’s retirement plus the end of Federico Bravo’s loan leaves Mikey Lopez as the lone option. Lopez is highly rated and respected by the staff but is soon-to-turn 24 with only 1600 minutes of professional experience. He still earned a new contract this offseason but only a strong preseason will guarantee him a regular role. The chances of that happening after a recent, unannounced surgery are slim.

Lopez and Awuah are midfielders who can play as fullbacks — or at least that’s how the technical staff sees them. They see Miguel Camargo as an attacking midfielder who can also play deeper and are comfortable placing Thomas McNamara, Khiry Shelton and Jack Harrison at different places as well. An easy way to make the most of the roster rules: make your young/inexpensive players as versatile as possible.

That path is meant to get young players as many opportunities as possible. It is nothing new for the triumvirate, who’ve emphasized developing youngsters. It’s an admirable philosophy, but building a young core has always been the plan. As has been the need for globally-known DPs to market and mentor. Fulfilling both needs as NYCFC enters season three would further the suggestion that continuity is settling in at the club.

But that only comes with savvy spending. And right now, that is an open question.

UPDATE (10:45 a.m.): Some good news for NYCFC fans – Kwame Awuah is a domestic player: