Change is a good thing. Change triggers progress. Not all change is pleasant but overcoming a tough period can make you stronger.
The transformation in year three of the New York City Football Club has illuminated the varying effects of a makeover.
First-year winger Rodney Wallace has two goals and one assist through four matches. Maxi Moralez has supplanted Frank Lampard in midfield with tools that have already added value and precision to NYCFC’s attacking options. The team from the Bronx has never had a box-to-box midfielder with the quality of Alex Ring and Alexander Callens has fortified a back line that is permitting far fewer shots per outing as the 2016 version. Change triggers progress.
In the last three matches for NYCFC, RJ Allen has been left off the 18-player squad. Khiry Shelton was absent from the bench in two of the last three matches. His lone appearance in that stretch was a two-minute cameo in the victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. Allen and Shelton were regulars in 2016.
Not all change is pleasant.
“Not taking RJ and Khiry is very difficult for me because of what they have done for New York City the last two years,” said head coach, Patrick Vieira. “But this is one of the reasons why we have played well. Everybody knows that they have to perform. They have to play well because we have other players who are capable.”
“At the same time, competitiveness will bring out the best in every single player,” said Vieira. “This is part of the game. And we are in a different level from last year when we look at the players and the squad we have now.”
Allen has been sidelined since Vieira called his tackle on Carlos Rivas “soft” on the week one, game-winning sequence for Orlando City – a match dominated by NYCFC. Shelton provided no impact in a reserve role with his team down a goal in Orlando.
“They just have to keep working,” said Vieira. “And their chance will come again just like Ethan (White).”
Here’s a closer look at some more NYCFC news and notes:
Lessons for Lewis
Rookie Jonathan Lewis could miss extended time with NYCFC representing the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup but the Akron product expects his role to expand as the MLS season progresses.
“I feel like as the season goes on, my minutes will increase,” said Lewis. “I definitely think the coach believes in me so I’m happy about that. Right now there are players ahead of me with more experience – and they are playing very well.”
That includes Wallace, an MLS Cup winner with Portland and Jack Harrison, the sophomore winger who has expanded his quality and strength. Both are role models for Lewis.
“Something I actually realized while watching Rodney from the bench,” said Lewis, “even when he’s not having his best game on the ball he never stops running – his movement off the ball is superb.”
“He flicked the ball to Ring and kept running to get the rebound,” Lewis said. “It made me realize that work rate is a big part for a winger.”
As for Harrison, Lewis sees a bit of himself in the England international.
“I just see how much confidence he plays with,” said Lewis. “Just expressing himself, like coach Patrick tells us everyday in training. We’re young, we’re youthful. Just express yourself.”
With the -U20 World Cup approaching, Lewis endeavors to also be a steady starter with the youth national team although the comparisons end with his desire to be in the XI.
“Here (at NYCFC), I can learn from these guys – not that I can’t learn from the U-20’s,” he said. “Since its around my own age group and we’re all so inexperienced. With us, it’s not as much of a learning experience – we just go out and fight for each other.”
Lewis will be unavailable this Saturday at D.C. United with a minor injury.
White Emerges from The Shadows
Since his acquisition from the Philadelphia Union prior to the 2016 season, Ethan White has struggled to secure a stable role at the back for NYCFC. The University of Maryland and D.C. United Academy product appeared in just 13 matches a season ago, more noted for his poor marking than his strength as a defender. Eventually, he was supplanted on a permanent basis by Allen at right back.
This season, White has started the last three matches at fullback ahead of Allen.
“Right back is his strength,” said Vieira. “This is a conversation we had together. He’s good enough to play center back but he’s been really good at right back. He is really focused has worked hard and waited for his chance. He has taken his chance and is playing really well.”
Vieira warned that although White has the edge at the moment, the lineup is continually subject to alteration.
“In general, at the beginning you start with one team and it will never be the same by the end of the season,” said the second-year coach.
Harrison Finally Connects
Harrison has been playing with confidence but was struggling to find his goal-scoring form until the 10th minute equalizer versus the Earthquakes. He had launched a sitter over the bar in the previous match against the Impact.
“The message to Jack during the week before the San Jose game was simple,” said Vieira. “I don’t care if he scores or he doesn’t score. What I want him to do is contribute to the team, the way he opens up the opposition back four, the way he’s making assists, the way he is working to win the ball back. He has been fantastic.”
Harrison squeezed a left-footed half-volley past David Bingham to remove any doubts.
“I’m really happy that he managed to score the goal,” said Vieira. “Scoring goals, he will do it because he has the talent to do it.”
The Cult of McNamara
Tommy McNamara, a fan favorite at Yankee Stadium, scored the game-winning goal against the Earthquakes just four minutes after replacing Andrea Pirlo in the second half. After the match, reporters repeatedly steered the questioning in the direction of McNamara’s performance.
“It looks like I’ll have to start him next week,” said Vieira with a chuckle. “I always have loved Tommy – not just the player but the person.”
The West Nyack, New York native was fetched in 2014 by Wilmer Cabrera – the manger of Chivas USA at the time and currently lauded for his first-year handiwork with the Houston Dynamo.
“I selected him with no doubts for my way to see the game,” said Cabrera. “He didn’t look athletic, he didn’t look strong but the game IQ and technique are elements you only see on the field. When the intelligence and technique flourish, Thomas McNamara is one of the best players of his age in this country.”
A regular in ’16, McNamara has played as a reserve in the opening four matches.