PHILADELPHIA — New York City FC finished in second place in the Eastern Conference during the regular season last year and one goal short of reaching the conference finals. The club could have deemed that good enough to not have to make many changes to its roster ahead of the 2018 campaign, but it opted for a different approach in an effort to get deeper.
The thought behind that? To close the gap on reigning MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.
NYCFC begins its preseason in earnest on Monday, and will do so with a squad that has plenty of new faces. David Villa still leads the way and the bulk of last year’s side remains in tact, but New York City has brought in several reinforcements, like right back Saad Abdul-Salaam and forward Jo Inge Berget, this winter to try and take the next step in challenging for MLS’s ultimate prize.
“I think when you look at all the players that we bring, we’re going to be a better team,” said NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira at the MLS SuperDraft on Friday. “I think we’re going to be good enough to challenge Toronto, who I believe was the best team last year.”
Depth proved to be vital to Toronto FC’s historic run at the title last year, as role players regularly stepped up and delivered up front, in the midfield, and at the back. That embarrassment of riches allowed Toronto to become the first team in MLS history to win a treble.
NYCFC is seeking to have that type of quality throughout its roster. Vieira stuck with much of the same group last season, and while results were mostly positive, there was not much rotation in the squad. That could change this year.
“I think when you look at the players that we bring, we have two really, really, really good players in each position,” said Vieira. “To (find playing time) will be difficult, so it challenges each other and try to get the best of each other, which will help the quality of the team.”
One of the players that might improve NYCFC’s depth is Jeff Caldwell, the goalkeeper from Virginia that the club selected with the 19th pick in the MLS SuperDraft. It is very unlikely that Caldwell sees the field with any regularity if he is signed, but his abilities in net and eagerness to learn could give New York City a talented young prospect capable of being counted on if needed.
“I’m sure David Villa is going to be a bit of a learning curve compared to some college strikers, but I can’t wait to embrace that challenge every day in training,” said Caldwell. “Mostly my plan for the next couple of years is to soak everything in. Soak it in. I couldn’t be more fortunate than to have soccer minds like those and the rest of the staff and the guys and veterans in the locker to learn from.”
There may soon be more players to learn from. NYCFC has brought in new players like Abdul-Salaam, Berget, Jesus Medina, and Anton Tinnerholm to bolster the squad, but more help is likely on the way.
NYCFC wants to bridge the gap between itself and Toronto, and knows it will take a squad littered with quality to do so.
“Yeah, we’re not finished yet,” said Vieira. “We still have spots in our roster, so we just try to do a little bit more business before the deadline. There is a spot in the midfield, there is a spot as well at the back so we still have a few players that we can bring in.”