NYCFC Looks to Weather Storm of Injuries for Another Week

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

NYCFC logoInjuries in September can be disastrous for teams hoping to make a run in the coming Major League Soccer playoffs. Fortunately for New York City FC, the club is well-positioned to weather the storm. Unfortunately, that storm isn’t passing soon.

Midfielders Alex Ring and Yangel Herrera remained sidelined from training since sustaining injuries during the last international break and David Villa only trained by himself Wednesday. Ring and Herrera are unlikely to make the trip for City’s game at the Colorado Rapids this Saturday and no timetable is set for their return. As for Villa, Coach Patrick Vieira said he’s waiting to see if Villa can train with the team Thursday and Friday before making a decision on how involved he’ll be for Saturday.

“If he doesn’t have those sessions then it will be difficult,” Vieira said. “He’s doing a little bit more every day and we see how he feels after. Today he did a little bit more and we have to wait to see tomorrow morning to see if he’s going to react. If he’s fine, he’s going to take part of the team session. If he’s not, we have to delay it because we don’t want to take any risk during this part of the season.”

Vieira said that NYCFC plans on flying to Denver on Friday after a light training session and leave Sunday morning to mitigate the impact of playing at altitude. They are still going to fly across the country the day before a game. With City comfortable in second place, however, it can afford to keep giving playing time to some of their underused players and experiment with other players in new roles.

Khiry Shelton made his first start of the season in the Pigeons’ loss to the Portland Timbers last weekend and Vieira said he was pleased with his performance. Vieira was also happy with Jack Harrison and his performance at center forward working as a false No. 9. He said Harrison enjoyed playing centrally and getting to link with Maxi Moralez. Without Villa, City was shut out at home for the first time this season.

“I think the players are in the right spots but we have to keep working,” Vieira said. “Jack doubled the number of goals he scored from last year and the number of assists. I want Maxi to be more involved in goals. I want Rodney [Wallace] to score more goals, I want Khiry to score more goals, I want Ugo [Okoli] to score more goals when he has a chance to play. We want to have a second or third player who can have two figures, that is important for us.”

Vieira can decide to use Harrison in that role again or re-insert Okoli into the lineup. Okoli started against Sporting Kansas City and came on during the second half of the game against the Timbers. Okoli said he was comfortable with the support play Vieira asks of his center forwards but he’s only scored once this season. Misses like the one against Kansas City may linger in his conscience like a bee that can’t be shooed away.

“I’m a goalscorer,” Okoli said. “I know that they go in and sometimes they don’t go in, it’s about how I get on with it. When we get wins, it makes things easier for myself. I just want to be able to continue to make an impact and help the team. Everything else will take care of itself.”

To go with the injuries to Ring and Herrera, Mikey Lopez only did fitness training Wednesday. The losses of Ring and Herrera have forced Vieira to start Andrea Pirlo in consecutive games at defensive midfield to vastly different results. Although they will be playing at altitude, Vieira said that Pirlo is physically capable and being considered to start again. He did say the same for James Sands, who has yet to make his competitive debut.

Whether its Pirlo or Sands in defensive midfield, Thomas McNamara is likely to occupy the No. 8 spot linking either of them to Moralez in midfield. It’s a new role for McNamara who has spent much of his time with the club on left wing or as an attacking midfielder. McNamara said he has to be a little more guarded with deciding to join the attack in this role so it doesn’t leave the team exposed to a counterattack, regardless of it’s Pirlo or Sands behind him.

“It depends on the situation and where the ball and the other team is,” McNamara said. “More or less, it’s being aware of their counterattacks and where guys are cheating defensively for them so we don’t get exposed defensively. If we’re in a deeper block, it’s trying to protect the back four and make sure that there’s nobody getting the ball in Zone 14¹ and turning because it’s the most dangerous spot in the field.”

The worry about the injury situation can be eased knowing that NYCFC will remain in second place no matter what happens Saturday. It is five points ahead of the Chicago Fire and seven ahead of the Columbus Crew, which has played one more game. City need a combination of seven points won or lost by the Montreal Impact to clinch a playoff berth. A professional effort against the second-worst team in the league, and City could be in position to seal a playoff spot next weekend.

“It’s always difficult going away from home,” McNamara said. “You can say what you want about teams’ records and how they’re playing but it’s never easy going on a cross-country flight and playing at altitude. They’re going to look to be very strong defensively and so we’re going to have be aware of that and their counterattack.”

NOTES

Ronald Matarrita did some individual training with the ball during Wednesday morning’s session. He previously told EoS that he is targeting a return to action with NYCFC next week and a return to full fitness in time for the October World Cup qualifiers. Judging from how comfortable he looked running and in individual drills, he is well on track to do that. … Sean Johnson was kept out of most of the team session Wednesday morning as he recovers from the knocks he picked up last weekend. Vieira said Johnson will be available this weekend. …  Andraz Struna will make the trip to Denver and is in contention to make his debut Saturday.