What a difference a year makes.
There’s turning a franchise around quickly, and then there’s what head coach Patrick Vieira and New York City FC are doing.
The 2016 version of NYCFC started the season winning their opener on the road in Chicago before going on a seven-match winless streak, getting everyone on the bus to run the team, the goalkeeper, just about everybody out of town. The Pigeons couldn’t score and couldn’t defend a lead. It seemed as if the Patrick Vieira era was doomed for failure from the very start.
Then they bounced back, winning three straight.
Then they lost 7-0 to the Red Bulls at home.
Then they blew leads to both Orlando City and Real Salt Lake at home.
At least they found a way to win on the road.
As we draw closer to the end of July, they’re 6-1-3 away from Yankee Stadium so far this year, boasting the best road record in the league.
Sunday’s 3-1 win at the Montreal Impact notched their league-leading sixth road win, giving them two more than any other team in MLS. It’s also their 19th road point after 10 road matches, putting the Pigeons in some serious company.
The 2010 L.A. Galaxy currently hold the record for most points per game on the road since 2000 (2 ppg). Meanwhile, NYCFC is right behind them with 1.9 ppg on the road. The only teams behind NYCFC right now are the 2005 San Jose Earthquakes, the 2011 Seattle Sounders and the 2012 Earthquakes – all of whom won at least nine matches on the road.
Of that entire list, the 2010 Galaxy and the 2005 and 2012 Earthquakes all won the Supporters’ Shield in their respective years.
Their sudden run to the top of the East – winning five of their last six – is sheer resiliency to avoid repeating the disaster that happened last year, when they had a lack of everything on the pitch: lack of attack, lack of defending and a lack of chemistry. They silenced the critics who’ve said that starting all three designated players –David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo – wouldn’t work because of their age and have found a formation that works for everyone, putting players in positions to succeed.
NYCFC have also found ways to not lose as often as they did last year. The Pigeons haven’t lost back-to-back matches since mid-late April. Even in their four-match winless streak from mid-May to early June they alternated between draws and losses.
However their current run of winning five of their last six isn’t enough, especially in the eyes of Vieira.
“I still believe there are some parts of the game where we really need to improve,” he said after the win in Montreal on Sunday.
“We are more solid as a team, and I’m really pleased with where we are at the moment. But we are not perfect yet.”
The road for NYCFC to complete one of, if not the, best road season in recent MLS history, they’ll need to win five of their last seven road games.
Luckily, their remaining road schedule favors them.
NYCFC travels to New Jersey to take on the Red Bulls on Friday, followed by their last west coast trip of the year on August 5th against the San Jose Earthquakes. Their August road trip continues with games against Eastern conference bottom-dwellers Columbus Crew (Aug. 13) and Orlando City SC (Aug. 28). They end their road schedule at New England (Sept. 10), Houston (Sept. 30) and at D.C. United (Oct. 16).
Per the current standings, their only road match-ups against potential playoff teams are against the Red Bulls on Sunday, then at New England on on Sept. 10.
The Quakes, Crew, Orlando City, Houston Dynamo and D.C. United all currently sit below the red line in their respective conferences.
With the current summer transfer window underway, Vieira and company may be looking to find ways to add depth to the club not just for the current playoff push, but also to hold onto the top seed in the East and maybe a Supporters’ Shield.