The preseason is rolling along for NYCFC and with first regular season match against Orlando City SC about three weeks away, there are still some questions to be asked regarding how the boys in blue will line up on the pitch and who will play where.
The good news is that City has a litany of options in multiple positions which gives them plenty of versatility, something that head coach Domenec Torrent values greatly in his teams. There is still time to add players before the season starts, but for the purpose with this, we will stick to the current roster.
Starting in net, this is the easiest decision Torrent will make all year. As long as Sean Johnson is healthy, he will be the man in-goal for City all season long. He’s stabilized the position over the past two seasons, and his presence and leadership steadies the ship for the entire squad going forward. It also helps that he is a very, very good keeper as well of course. The bigger question is who the backup will be, either Jeff Caldwell, Brad Stuver, or even 2018 MLS Superdraft first round pick Luis Barraza. But with Johnson in net, whoever the backup is won’t see the pitch very often if ever.
City has historically played a 4-3-3 formation and that will most likely continue in 2019. A 4-3-3 formation has four defenders in the back, three midfielders that run around all over the field, and three forwards, typically a striker and two wingers that launch the attack. In defense, the right back will be Anton Tinnerholm who is very sound defensively and springs the offense up the right side and can provide that offensive spark from the back. In the center of that defense, the combination of Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot will be responsible for locking down the opposing forwards. This will be the third season this tandem is together and you can make the case that they are one of the best CB duos in all of MLS, if not the best. Finally at left back, it makes the most sense to play Ronald Matarrita in that spot. Ben Sweat is also a very viable option here, but Matarrita is the better player both offensively and defensively. Mataritta also has an extensive injury history however, so we will most likely see both him and Sweat in that spot as the season rolls along.
In the midfield, City has a myriad of players they can go with but the best midfield would include newly named captain Alexander Ring in the “six” role, recently acquired Keaton Parks playing the “eight”, and veteran DP Maxi Moralez in the “ten” spot. The player in the six role sits in front of the defense and is responsible for being a defensive stalwart in the middle that gives the other players in the midfield the freedom to go forward and attack with the forwards, There is no better man for the job than Ring, who has done this for City the past two seasons and will continue that this year. Ring is a tough, nasty player in the middle of the pitch that makes life very difficult for everyone he plays against and that edge he brings has made him a favorite among the City supporters. The crowd at Yankee Stadium erupts every time he makes a bone crunching tackle that stops the opponent dead in their tracks and gives City possession.
Playing the eight requires you to be both responsible defensively and creative offensively, and Parks can do that and do it well. He’s a box to box midfielder with all the size in the world and he has a knack for picking out the right pass to spring the attack. Parks also has experience playing in Europe and that pedigree will help him here stateside. The ten is one of the most important positions on any soccer team responsible for creating scoring chances for the forwards and sits right behind them. Maxi Moralez is coming off an MVP caliber season in 2018 with eight goals and a massive sixteen assists, and he is the man for the job here. His passing is both creative and superb, and his speed is a nightmare for defenders. With his small stature he also draws a significant amount of fouls from the opposing players which leads to set pieces in dangerous areas and scoring chances. If he can replicate 2018, with all of the wingers and attacking options City has, it can be a very beautiful connection.
Now the forward position is where things are a little dicey for the Pigeons. There isn’t an out-and-out, pure number nine striker on the roster after David Villa’s departure and Jo Inge Berget’s decision to terminate his contract. City however, has an abundance of wingers so they can be creative to produce goals. Newly acquired forward Alexandru Mitrita, who scored in his City debut against Swedish club AIK, which also was his 24th birthday, is the man to play in the center of the forwards. He can potentially play a “false nine” role where he drops back into the midfield as much as possible and opens things up for everyone up front, wingers and midfielders alike. Ismael Tajouri Shradi played right-wing for City last year and provided a spark offensively with twelve goals and has the skill set to put the ball in the net. On the left-wing, Jesus Medina scored six times and assisted on seven goals in 2018 and he has the creativity and finishing ability to succeed after an up and down season last year.
All three players are versatile enough where they can even switch with each other during the course of the game. For example, Mitrita drops back into the midfield and Tajouri slides over to the center where they can link up. On the bench you also have left winger Jonathan Lewis who has done nothing but produce with his limited time on the pitch for both NYCFC and the USMNT. He can start but his best role could potentially be coming off the bench as a “supersub”. He has a knack for providing fresh legs and that late spark needed at times to push City across the line. Taty Castellanos can also play up front, but the one thing is certain, you will see a lot of different concepts and ideas for the City attack without a true striker. They tried to sign Spanish striker Carlitos from Polish side Legia Warsaw, but that deal fell through.
There is still time to add a striker, but for now it will be interesting to see how Torrent deploys the City attackers.
Featured Image: NYCFC.com