One can feasibly except a revamped and youthful look from NYCFC by the time next season rolls around.While 2016 was a rousing success for NYCFC, the team that takes the field in 2017 will likely be radically different than the one fans saw take the field at Yankee Stadium this season.
For starters, talismanic midfielder Frank Lampard has announced he is moving on from the club, and could potentially head back to England. Additionally, Andoni Iraola, the Athletic Bibao legend and starting defensive mid for much of the season in New York has announced his retirement from soccer, leaving a massive hole in the middle of the New York City defense.
Furthermore, the club announced Monday that they will decline the options on Jason Hernandez, Tony Taylor, Mehdi Ballouchy, as well as declining buy options on Stephen Mendoza and Federico Bravo.
The most pressing of these changes is Hernandez, who started 26 games as a defender for NYCFC in 2016. Hernandez is a 12-year MLS veteran, though at 33, it seems that Claudio Reyna and Patrick Viera believed his best years have passed him by.
Taylor is the next big departure, scoring two goals in 14 appearances for NYCFC this year. However, the emergence of Khiry Shelton as a speedy winger left Taylor out of a job most nights, making it unsurprising that the club has moved on.
However, these decisions do reveal a key turning point in the future direction of NYCFC: the club is getting drastically younger.
Apart from the loanees returning to their parent clubs, Tony Taylor is the only departure under the age of 30. Additionally, as a 27-year-old winger, Taylor plays a position that requires elite athleticism, though he is probably past his athletic peak.
Considering NYCFC entered their inaugural season as the oldest team in MLS, only to have their lofty expectations shattered by poor tactics, confusing roster construction, and a lack of chemistry, it’s fair to estimate the club has learned its lesson with bringing in tons of veteran players. Certainly, the likes of David Villa and Andrea Pirlo can help teams win games (and help the MLS grow revenue), but a team full of aging players cannot hope to contend in today’s league.
Additionally, NYCFC has probably seen the success of young DPs around the league, and hopes to replicate that production. Players like Sebastian Giovinco, Mauro Diaz, and Nicolas Lodeiro have set the example for what young talent can accomplish in this league, especially young talent worth a DP salary.
As good as Lampard was for NYCFC, he never matched the desire or injury resilience of his younger counterparts. Fixing that issue should be paramount for NYCFC.
With City Football Group’s considerable resources in finances and scouting, NYCFC should have no problem identifying top young talent from around the globe to bring to MLS. While most young players dream of Europe, I’m sure there are dozens of top notch players around the globe dying to play in New York alongside legends like Pirlo and Villa. If NYCFC can capitalize on a few of those young talents, they could build a contender for years to come.
In the first two years at the club, New York City had to focus the bulk of its efforts on establishing a fan base. With fans now fully entrenched in the club, they must turn their attention to winning.
Past iterations of the MLS have seen teams thrive on veteran DPs and young role players. However, in recent years, the model has been flipped on its head. In order to succeed in MLS, teams need at least one young DP talent. As NYCFC examines how to replace their departed players this summer, finding that young superstar should be of the utmost importance.