With the departure of Frank Lampard, New York City Football Club have an empty designated player spot to fill.
There has been much speculation as to which marquee player will join David Villa and Andrea Pirlo as the franchise’s headline name.
Many potential designated players are aging stars in some of Europe’s top leagues: Manchester United’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manchester City’s Yaya Tour’e, and Atletico Madrid’s Fernando Torres.
However, it would be unwise to invest in another foreign commodity. Someone completely unfamiliar to MLS may prove to be a risk that might not be worth taking. Additionally, midfield or attack are not the areas in which the team needs to strengthen most.
That distinction is reserved for defense, where NYCFC let up 57 goals during the 2016 season, the most among all sides that qualified for the postseason. That poor defensive record carried over to the postseason, where NYCFC were thumped 7-0 by Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
As NYCFC and manager Patrick Vieira continue to progress and try and mount yet another playoff run, the decision they choose to make regarding the third DP is of vital importance. It could be a franchise making or breaking move, one that could take NYCFC over the hump and give them their first postseason victory (or goal), or slouch them back down into the non-playoff spots.
The best course of action for New York City Football Club is to attempt to sign a defender for the designated player role. Adding on, the defender should be an American as well. A homegrown, star caliber defender would give NYCFC the best chance at increased success.
Not only would a defender solve the clubs biggest weakness, but an American with a good feel for MLS would help a club that could benefit from leadership from the back. There are two particular defenders who fit this bill.
The first is center back Omar Gonzalez. The 28-year-old is currently plying his trade in Mexico’s Liga MX, for Pachucha. However, he is best known for his time with LA Galaxy, where he won MLS Rookie of the Year in 2009, MLS Defender of the Year in 2011, and won MLS Cup in 2011, 2013, and 2014.
While Gonzalez is best known for his prodigal figure and ability to lead from the back and marshall a defense, he also has an eye for goal — he scored twelve times from center back for the Galaxy. Gonzalez also has an international pedigree for the United States men’s national team as well — he started in two massive World Cup games for the United States in 2014 — a group stage game vs. Germany and a Round of 16 contest vs. Belgium.
Gonzalez is the first center back in MLS history to be named a designated player. His impact on the team would be immediate– at 28 years old, Gonzalez is smack dab in the middle of his prime. His MLS playoff experience, international pedigree, and knack for scoring from set plays would make him a superb signing. The question is — does he want to return to MLS, and will NYCFC be able to afford his transfer fee/wages?
The second player is Geoff Cameron. The versatile defender, who can play at either center back or right back, currently plies his trade with Stoke City in the English Premier League. Cameron has been sidelined since October with a knee injury, but sources say that several MLS clubs have reached out to Stoke regarding his availability.
Four Western Conference teams have reached out to Geoff Cameron about coming to MLS when his contract is up in 18 months, per source.
— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) January 11, 2017
At 31, Cameron is older than Gonzalez, but he arguably has more pedigree than Gonzalez. He played an even bigger role for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side at the World Cup than Gonzalez, and his time at Stoke City has given him arguably more of a competitive edge against Premier League competition than Gonzalez has had in Mexico and the United States.
Both Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron would be sound additions to NYCFC’s backline. As designated players, they would add an American flare to the team, as well as a player with the ability to marshall the backline and give the team a much needed defensive backbone.
Whether or not NYCFC’s brass will make the sound decision and sign a defender, or go out and sign another aging European player remains to be seen.