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Round 4 Recap: "We have a better idea of who NYCFC is"

Guest post by Luca Morganti

Heading into the fourth round of the 2015 MLS campaign, we have a better idea of who NYCFC is. We can control the ball with David Villa on the pitch. Our keeper Josh Saunders is playing out of his mind, so much so that fans have misguidedly begun pondering why he hasn’t been called up to the US National Team. There is a very good reason: he might not crack the top ten best keepers in a country led by Tim Howard. Still, New Yorkers won’t be deterred in telling you how one of their players – and the entire team – has been slighted.

Going into Week 4, the MLS has NYCFC ranked tenth, finally jumping overrated rival expansion club Orlando City. There is certainly a lack of respect coming our way, but that should be expected with expansion clubs. Moreover, we scored zero goals last week in Colorado and looked unfit. Still, you’d think the entire league is pegging us to finish last with pouring of outrage in Facebook groups, blogs and bars.

Their behaviour is fitting for New York. In a city with original members of the four “major sport leagues” and MLS, the New York Yankees baseball team dominates our history, holding 27 of the 42 championships held by now ten teams across five sports. Three of those teams have zero championships. One team has only one; another only two. Fan sensitivity is understandable, especially considering the recent multi-sport successes in rival cities Boston and Los Angeles.

In the stands, we are still finding our way. The tifo was thought and argued over for two weeks after winning MLS’ tifo of the week in the home debut. How that happened, I do not know. Songs have been voted on and finalized, though in my humble opinion, they still need significant improvements and addition of real New York attitude. The support continues to grow, though. Yankee Stadium, while still closing the top tier to fans, claimed a sell-out crowd of 27545 for the Round 4 match against two-time champions Sporting Kansas City.

An interesting note regarding Yankee Stadium and NYCFC’s inaugural season taking place in it: firstly, there are very few examples where the owners of a club are able to build their new stadium for their new team around how many supporters show up. This inaugural season is serving as test-run for City Football Group, and intentionally or not, it is a marvelous advantage for them knowing how many season ticket holders they have. This happened with the Montreal Impact, who despite their poor play in recent history maintain loyal, often sell-out crowds. Secondly, watching football blossom into a “major sport” in America on a baseball ground is painfully ironic, and I can’t be the only one who sees it. Americans are fully aware of the struggles baseball is facing. The league is attempting to speed up games because of diving attendance figures over the last decade, taking away an element of purity to the game that oddly even purists tend to agree with. Player salaries are overinflated, as are ticket prices. Steroids still hang a dark cloud over the game. In short, our national pastime is slowly dying before our eyes while football grows by the day.

To further confuse fans and squad, Frank Lampard rumors began swirling after Manchester City’s elimination from Champions League. The fans are collectively saying, “Great. This again.” Initially, he signed with to play with NYCFC. Then, he illegally moved to City after the owners were finished lying to FIFA and fans to get around FFP regulations. Now that Man City don’t want/realized they didn’t need him, he’s coming back to us sooner than July. Or is he? Per usual, we are kept in the dark. Considering the man has yet to play a single second with anyone on the roster, I’m not sure how much of an immediate impact he’ll make. Maybe NYCFC will try to sell us more kits for players who hypothetically play for us in the mean time.

With roster size and scheduling in mind, our match versus Sporting Kansas City this week demonstrated two of the largest flaws in MLS: depth and scheduling, which at this point in the campaign are directly correlated. Say what you will about the outrageous salary cap rules in MLS, which factors into issues with depth. However, scheduling is the main culprit of the poor quality because MLS refuses to acknowledge the international break. MLS arbitrarily gives off-weeks to teams playing in CONCACAF Champions League but continues league play while most teams’ best players are away. Why? No one knows. The argument for trying out other players is fine, but not in a league where many strategies are centered around the one or two superstars on each MLS team, one of the hilariously titled “Designated Players” who falls out of salary cap restrictions and allows players of Sebastian Giovinco’s caliber to sign for $10m per season to play in Toronto.

NYCFC showed the league-wide weakness this week without David Villa and two other starters who sat because of injury rather than international play. But two more players missing to international call-ups didn’t help matters. Manager Jason Kreis tried to compensate for Villa’s absence by sending a winger to play on or near the outline. The formation was completely ineffective, in part because the pitch is so narrow that the winger on either side spent half his time out of bounds. Players weren’t able to get the ball to the wide open winger, possibly because of the heavy, stifling cold that settled over the Bronx and the damp field, possibly because of the noticeable missing talent.

The stifling cold did a number on the fans, as well. While every available seat was sold, there were large pockets of empty ones. The supporters groups in the bleachers might as well have been silent despite affirming songs the week before and distributing lyrics to fans before the game. In fact, my three-quarters-filled block of season ticket holders was louder than the entire three bleacher blocks this week.

The result was a 1-0 loss at home that should have been worse to an admirable opponent who outplayed us in every way. We could not keep the ball. We could not complete passes. We did not create many chances. Our keeper was subpar. Our defence was worse. Overall, a truly horrendous performance – and not one that you want to take four of your English friends to. But to the New York fan base following the every move of our infant club, it is far from shocking considering the team’s circumstances.

NYCFC and MLS have a lot to work on. Unfortunately, any improvements to the league will have to wait until next season and go through Don Garber, a Queens native and one of the worst commissioners in the history of all sports in the United States. Until then, it’s up to club and fans to realise that there is still good work that can be done during losing efforts.