What to Watch For: NYCFC’s Preseason Gets Real


by Christian Araos

The awkward derby has come and gone. So has the high-profile overseas trip. Now New York City FC prepares to play its next two preseason games in Tucson, Ariz., against Western Conference opponents and the real assessment can begin. Here’s what to watch for in the match against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night.

Jockeying for Starting Spots

NYCFC is going to do their quick trips to Mexico, Ecuador and other locales as part of its outreach and it has been successful so far. Now that the marketing box has  been checked, the team can get to work on the technical aspect. Up front, Rodney Wallace just joined the team for training but he will eventually challenge Khiry Shelton and Jack Harrison for a spot on the wing. In midfield, we should see Alexander Ring get his first preseason action and audition for defensive midfielder.

Thomas McNamara should get another run out at the top of the midfield triangle but his audition is going to expire once Maxi Moralez and Miguel Camargo work themselves into the fold. Moralez is in the visa process and has yet to join the team and Camargo is not ready for match action yet.

We can also begin to assess the backline more earnestly. Alexander Callens is also waiting for visas to be finalized but that should allow for Maxime Chanot to get his first preseason minutes at left center back. Frederic Brillant or Ethan White can play right of center. Ronald Matarrita could see more minutes at left back but right back is an interesting spot. Shannon Gomez has had a good preseason so far and was not far off from making a league debut before his knee injury. If Gomez gets a runout with the core of the first team, then it will be a legitimate chance for him to push R.J. Allen for that starting spot.

Back Five Chemistry

This was brought up ahead of the Red Bull match but was really rendered moot by Coach Patrick Vieira’s selections. That being said, the ad hoc defense was O.K. at playing from front to back and keeping its shape against a full-strength New York Red Bulls attack that played most of the match. Now that the first team is set to start as one unit in their normal positions, we can remove the bell curve.

Sean Johnson is the only new piece to the back five from last year and has been picking up what Vieira wants from his goalkeepers so now the question is how he works with the backline. Can Johnson command the penalty area while being a reliable safety valve for the defense to play back to? There’s nothing to suggest that he can’t but the process of getting everyone on the same page will begin Saturday.

Does a Youngster Step up?

There were some encouraging moments from NYCFC’s trialists and unsigned draft picks against the Red Bulls on Wednesday. Jalen Brown was active on the wing and combined well with the midfield in a couple of quick attacking moves. Kwame Awuah was comfortable in tight spaces shuttling the ball up the field. Chris Wingate, however, struggled at the defensive midfield spot. James Sands continued to impress in the same role.

There are roster spots for Ben Sweat, Brown, Awuah, Wingate to earn as John Stertzer just proved, but with the shift toward getting the first team regulars up to speed means the minutes for these players in friendlies will go down. At some point in the second half, one of them might get tapped to come off the bench and play with some of the first team. How they get up to speed with their teammates should reveal whether or not they’re at the level NYCFC needs them to be for competitive matches. If they fall short, there’s always San Antonio.

Sands is a bit of a wild card on this front. If he’s up to speed with the first team and shows that he can perform at the level of his teammates then Vieira’s praise becomes substantiated and the Homegrown contract looms larger. There’s a ready-made out for him and NYCFC if he’s not able to keep up. Sands is on the roster for the U.S. U17 residency this spring and could spend the next few months refining his game there before things are revisited in the summer.

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