Matarrita Injury May Force NYCFC to Make Moves

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoPURCHASE, N.Y. — It was all good only two weeks ago.

New York City FC was getting its fullback Ronald Matarrita back from an ankle injury and riding a winning streak. Then Matarrita broke his foot and City’s defense was exposed by a clinical Vancouver Whitecaps attack. Now with Matarrita out until October, Coach Patrick Vieira has reversed himself. NYCFC is now looking to add talent this summer.

“We’re always going to try to improve the team,” Vieira said. “We have the space to maybe add one or two players, we can do it. We want to improve the team and if we can find good players, we will do it. It has to be a special player.”

Vieira previously said that the team would not be active in the summer transfer window having been satisfied with the depth he has on the squad. He remained confident in the options he has on the wing even as the team is currently short with Matarrita and Khiry Shelton injured, and Rodney Wallace and Miguel Camargo at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Jack Harrison, Thomas McNamara and the rookie Jonathan Lewis are the options left, but the question with the Pigeons has been and always be with their defense.

At left back, they are down to Ben Sweat and Kwame Awuah. Sweat won the team’s Player of the Month Award for June, scoring a goal and an assist in the win against the New York Red Bulls. Sweat has started 11 of the last 12 games at left back with City collecting 23 points in the games that he appeared in. With Matarrita gone, Sweat is the incumbent at left back for now.

“There’s still guys that can compete at my position,” Sweat said. “The competitiveness of this team leads to our success this year. Our good, positive attitude, our work rate and our intensity throughout training is what leads us to winning games.”

Sweat is making a successful return to MLS because of his ability to play on the ball while remaining a versatile, sound defender at both left back and left center back. The loss at Vancouver was only the third game he’s played in where City allowed more than one goal, they’ve scored in every game he’s played. Sweat credited the team’s performances with putting him in the position where he could contribute in every game during the four-game winning streak.

“I wouldn’t have been able to get the assists or contribute without the players around me and the coaches preparing me,” Sweat said. “It was a lot on the team and I was happy to get some honor out of that but it doesn’t change anything for me.”

Awuah, on the other hand, has only played one minute in his rookie season. The first-round pick from UConn intrigued NYCFC with his ability to play in midfield or defense, along with being a left-footed player. Yet he has been unable to find a way onto the field for City. He said Canada Coach Octavio Zambrano told him the lack of playing time was the reason he was left off of Canada’s roster for the Gold Cup.

“He told me that I was still part of the plans for the future,” Awuah said. “He just wanted me to come back to get some games and some match fitness. I haven’t been playing that much with New York City and that’s an important thing. Usually with the national team, it’s players who are playing the most games for their teams who are getting called up.”

Awuah said he wasn’t offended by not being included in Canada’s squad and is holding out hope that he gets called in for the tournament’s later stages. He said he wasn’t disappointed with the lack of playing time with NYCFC because the team has been performing well and things aren’t broken. With Matarrita injured, Awuah is closer to game opportunities where he said he would hope to apply what he’s learned from Matarrita, Sweat and the rest of the team.

“I think the last seven months of my development have been amazing. Coming from college where you’re the star player or one of the star players to someone who’s mid-roster and learning from Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and coach Vieira, it’s a big transition and I’ve adapted to that transition. The next step is that whenever I play, I take the opportunity.”

City play four games before the international transfer window closes Aug. 9 — twice against Toronto (July 19 and July 30), and once against the Chicago Fire (July 22) and the Red Bulls (Aug. 6). Those games will give a potential opportunity for young players like Lewis and Awuah to make an impression, Vieira said, but it will also be a good barometer of the team’s ambition and status as contenders this season.

“It’s going to be a really exciting month for us as a football club,” Vieira said. “We play Toronto twice, Chicago and the Red Bulls and it’s challenging but that is what we want. That is why we love the job, it’s very exciting. Players are looking forward to the month and I’m looking forward to it as well. After this month, we are going to know a lot about our ambition as a team.”