With the opportunity to give themselves a boost in their playoff push, New York City FC gave a mediocre showing.
Let me begin with the following statement: barring a monumental collapse in their final seven matches, New York City FC will make the playoffs. The question remains what seed they will be.
Going into the month of August, NYCFC’s schedule played into their hands perfectly. Not only did it play well in their push for the playoffs, but also for their push to finish as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
And how did they respond to the opportunity to propel themselves into the postseason? With a lackluster scoreless draw at San Jose, a choke-job of a draw at Columbus, a sluggish 1-0 win at home against Los Angeles, and an uninspiring 2-1 loss at Orlando City, who is now coached by former NYCFC leading man Jason Kreis.
In short, two unnecessary draws, a bare win, and a loss to their former coach, resulting in 1-1-2 against a schedule where they should’ve picked up three points in three of the four matches.
Sunday night’s loss to the Lions also snapped their recent four-match unbeaten streak, momentum that would be ideal for a team looking for a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“I was really disappointed with the way we played,” head coach Patrick Vieira said in his post-game press conference. “We didn’t play with intensity and no aggressivity at all.”
The recent lack of aggression and lack of overall urgency heading into the final stretch of the season should be a sign of concern for the Celestes. They’ve been anything but dynamic since their 5-1 win over Colorado, a match which seemed to show the club rebounding well after their 4-1 loss at the Red Bulls.
However, instead of building off of that win against what was considered the best defensive team in MLS, NYCFC looks more like they’ve regressed.
Since the win against Colorado, NYCFC hasn’t been consistent on the attacking front with captain David Villa, Tommy McNamara and the, now, “Right-winger by committee” combination of Steven Mendoza, Jack Harrison, and Tony Taylor. They haven’t been as solid defensively either with Maxime Chanot committing an unnecessary penalty Sunday night that led to Kaka’s go-ahead penalty kick in the 63rd minute.
Goalkeeper Josh Saunders has been shaky all season in his first year under Vieira, making some big saves while allowing more goals that should be routinely knocked away. He’s been shaky to a point where the supporters are screaming for backup ‘keeper Eirik Johansen to get his first shot in MLS play.
With three of their next four matches at home and seven matches remaining in total, NYCFC still has a very solid chance to finish with the top spot in the East, pending on how current leader Toronto FC plays in their final seven regular season matches.
The Celestes, though, are the better team and have shown at times that they are one of the best and most dynamic in MLS this year. With that said, they’ve also shown at times that they could be the biggest choke and joke of the league.
Which NYCFC will show up in the final stretch of the season? Stay tuned.
Going into their Thursday night match against D.C. United and former NYCFC forward Patrick Mullins (7 pm ET, YES), NYCFC (11-8-8; 41 pts) could do themselves a big favor by notching a necessary three points and jumping back into first place in the East going into the following international bye week.
The challenge itself won’t be as easy as it may seem, though. D.C. United (7-8-11; 32 pts) may be fighting to hang onto the sixth and final playoff spot. They’re also unbeaten in their last six matches, although four of those are draws.
Additionally, they’re coming off of a 6-2 win over the Chicago Fire last weekend, scoring a club record six goals for the fourth time in their 21-year history. Mullins, who was traded to D.C. by NYCFC over the summer, scored his first professional hat trick in that match.