After opening the year with a big 4-3 win at Chicago, NYCFC is once again in the midst of a winless streak in the early part of the season.
By Jeff Weisinger
The Associated Press said it best: “Even a previously win-less team beats hapless NYCFC.”
New York City FC’s recent 3-2 loss at the MLS Cup runner-up Columbus Crew Saturday night extended the Blues’ winless streak to five games with almost no hope of ending it in sight when they travel to Chester, PA to take on a fairly solid Philadelphia Union side that is currently second in the Eastern Conference table.
NYCFC nearly pulled off what would’ve been a miraculous draw in the final minutes at Columbus, however Crew keeper Steve Clark made a huge save at the post as Patrick Mullins tried to tap in a cross at point-blank.
Clark’s save saved the three points for the Crew and, more importantly for them, their first win of the season.
NYCFC (1-2-3), on the other hand, has struggled immensely since their home opener. The lone win at Chicago was the lone example of “beautiful football” that he wanted the team to play. The Blues have played the complete opposite of it: barely able to find the back of the net, inability to fully create chances, passing up on chances on first touch at the top of the box, or in the box and the inability to contain the attack on the wings.
The three-man backline that Vieira has deployed has actually, fairly, worked before their collapse to a previously struggling Crew side.
“We have to keep believing in ourselves,” Vieira said. “We still had a few chances tonight even if we didn’t play well. It is always good to create chances, but I think it is about the team; about how can we help the strikers to create chances, how can we help our defense to defend better. That’s how we are defending from the midfield and from the front players.”
For what it’s worth David Villa’s headed goal in the 18th minute, on a cross from Andoni Iraola, was a glimpse of what Vieira wants out of his team. The rest of the mess that we’ve witnessed so far, most notably after the Columbus loss, isn’t what Vieira wants.
“Something we have to take from Columbus is our lack of commitment, especially in the first half,” he said. “We didn’t compete enough in duals to attempt to get something from the game. I think if we don’t start well, we will make it more difficult for ourselves. This is something that has to change.”
NYCFC hasn’t started well in their last two losses, allowing a goal in the first 10-15 minutes of each of the matches — Cyle Larin’s goal in the seventh minute in the loss to Orlando City and Ethan Finlay’s early goal at Columbus. Vieira has been rightfully critical of his team’s recent starts, saying that “it’s just concentration.”
“It’s for players to get more focused and, of course, for me as a manager to remind them how important it is to start the game well. The we finish our games mean it’s not physical, it’s the mental. There is a small switch at the beginning of the game for the 90, 95 minutes.”
That lack of focus early on is an issue that NYCFC suffered during their 11-match winless streak during this same time last year. The Blues couldn’t contain an attack early on and opponents scored early, forcing NYCFC to play catch up for nearly an entire game. This time around, not only are they, again, giving up early goals, they also cannot seem to find the back of the net.
The constant reminders of this year’s start being reminiscent of last year’s is a topic that has started to unnerve Villa.
“Last year is closed,” he said after training Wednesday. “I see people on the Internet say the team has the same points [after six games] as last year. OK, I agree, but last year is over. This year we have another 28 games. I’m thinking of only this.
“I understand people who follow NYCFC want wins quickly. We play well and we deserve it in almost all the games. The other day, Columbus was better, but Columbus was better than almost all the teams in the league last year.”
Villa has scored four goals in the six games so far, however they’ve come in the form of two separate braces, the most recent coming last Saturday against the Crew.
Going into their match against Philly, NYCFC will have to find a way to play a full 90 minutes, let alone score.
“[The Union] is a team that is full of young, energetic players who can run for 95 minutes,” Vieira mentioned. “They are well-organized and physically, it will be hard for us. It will be difficult, but at the same time it will be as well hard and difficult to move their block because they defend really compact. I believe that we have what we need to give them a good game.”
Vieira has stashed away his three-man backline experiment, committing to a 4-3-3 and encouraging his side to attack more aggressively. A win against the Union would be huge, keeping the Blues above the red line in the early standings and, more importantly, giving them a much needed win in a coming short week that has them playing their two following games in a seven day span. After their trip to Philly, NYCFC returns home for two matches against the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps, both in a four-day span.
Regardless of the team’s struggles, Vieira is doing everything possible to keep things positive. Besides, it’s really all he can do at the moment.
“We are trying to build something in the long term, something really strong and really positive and we are working well,” he said. “We are working ahrd and let’s see what’s going to happen in the next two, three months.”