Although Friday night’s match in Puerto Rico is just a friendly, players on tonight’s NYCFC roster are looking to impress.
By Jeff Weisinger
New York City FC will take the field in a full, 90-minute friendly match against the Puerto Rico national team at the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico (7 p.m. EST, YES).
The Blues arrived in Puerto Rico earlier this week and have been in town training and promoting the match along with trying to help market the sport of soccer itself.
But after all of the fun and promotional events, it’s time for the Blues to get to work, and although the match is just a friendly, there could be jobs on the line for some of the players on the Blues going forward, especially considering that new head coach Patrick Vieira is on his way to the Big Apple to prepare for the club’s second season in Major League Soccer.
All three designated players made the trip to Puerto Rico – David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard – and all three are expected to play, especially Villa.
“It’s a privilege for us to keep growing soccer outside of our borders,” Villa said to NYCFC.com. “Not just to come here and to play the friendly, but to come here at an important moment. For the enjoyment of the people here. And that we can have important alliance in the future.”
Villa scored 18 goals in his first season in MLS, fourth overall in the league.
The match is also a homecoming of sort for the club’s defensive player of the year, Josh Saunders who, like Villa, is expected to start in the net tonight.
Saunders played with the Puerto Rico Islanders in 2007, making 22 appearances and leading them to the playoffs before heading up to MLS. He made a league-leading 124 saves for the Blues in 2015, starting all but two overall matches for the Blues between the posts. He didn’t play at the Chicago Fire on April 24 due to a suspension and didn’t play in their loss to the Cosmos in penalty kicks in June.
“It’s great to be back on the Island,” Saunders mentioned. “Being back on the beautiful island and back in the stadium that I have so many memories in. it brings back a lot of good memories and a lot of good times. I met a lot of good people. Even on the drive in, I was smiling.”
NYCFC will have a bit of a new look to them in Friday night’s friendly as the club released Ned Grabavoy, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Pablo Alvarez and Jeb Brovsky last week, while exercising the contracts of others like Saunders, Khiry Shelton, Connor Brandt, Tommy McNamara, Eirik Johannsen, Mehdi Ballouchy, RJ Allen, Kwadwo Poku, Tony Taylor and Patrick Mullins.
Angelino, Shay Facey, Ryan Meara and Javier Calle were all sent back to their original clubs after their loans expired and Sebastian Velasquez’s contract expired.
The Blues will have two trial players with them at Puerto Rico in goalkeeper Andre Rawls and defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.
We’ll get a good idea of what NYCFC could look like in 2016 on Friday night. Although Patrick Vieira has yet to arrive or work with the Club, his assistants will be taking over the sideline for this one, possibly giving us a glimpse of what could be to come. The Starting XI should be familiar to everyone: the three DP’s along with Saunders in the net with Mix Diskerud and Frank Lampard in the midfield, possibly with Poku.
The formation they come out with, where it’s a traditional 4-3-3 or a newer variation of a 4-4-2 could dictate the rest.
But the biggest thing to watch out for is going to be the backline. Angelino, Jeb Brovsky and Shay Facey are gone, meaning that the Blues should have the center back combo of Jason Hernandez and Jefferson Mena while RJ Allen could get a start at right back. Left back could be the question – does Hurtado get the start in the backline? Can this new coaching staff figure out a backline that could work in 2016?
The Blues are taking on a Puerto Rico national team that is the 172nd ranked national team in FIFA. They were eliminated from CONCACAF World Cup qualifying back in June after losing to Grenada. That’s not to say that they don’t have any talent though, despite most of their players playing within a nation dominated by baseball.
Twenty-one year old Matthew Sanchez handles the net-minding duties for Puerto Rico and in college at Loyola University, posting a 1.7 goals against average and three shutouts. They also have a threat in forward Hector Ramos, who scored 13 goals for his club team El Huracan Azul.
Besides Sanchez and Ramos, there isn’t all too much talent on Puerto Rico’s side, however that’s not to say that this’ll be a cakewalk for the Blues. They’ll want a strong finish to the calendar year especially after that disappointing finish against the Revolution in late October in the regular season finale.
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