After evaluating his first season at New York City FC, head coach Patrick Vieira elected to introduce 12 new faces to his program in 2017. Six fresh members in the starting XI and a deeper bench helped NYCFC to the second best regular season record in Major League Soccer.
However, another playoff disappointment left an acrid taste. It was abundantly clear to Vieira that the club from the Bronx lagged behind the MLS Cup favorites, Toronto FC.
“I think when you look at the game and their roster, we still have a long ways to go,” said Vieira after Toronto dismantled NYCFC, 4-0 in an August match. “There is still a gap. We couldn’t perform because they were too good for us. It’s as simple as that.”
On Monday, NYCFC said farewell to 11 players whose contracts were not exercised. With the retirement of Designated Player, Andrea Pirlo, the team from the Bronx will fortify with large numbers again in the quest for a third consecutive post-season birth. The expansion version of NYCFC failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2015. With RJ Allen’s departure yesterday, only three players remain from the first-year side – David Villa, Tommy McNamara and Khiry Shelton.
While NYCFC has the option to renegotiate with any of the players who were released, the numerous farewell videos like the one for Allen would suggest otherwise. It was an especially difficult day for the Old Bridge, New Jersey brothers – Brandon Allen was also set free by the New York Red Bulls.
NYCFC invited Allen to train with Villa prior to its expansion season. Allen eventually signed and played in 53 matches for NYCFC. His defending frailties prevented more frequent appearances for a club that will search for a strong two-way player at right back, a position that felt the purge more than any other with yesterday’s announcement.
Ethan White, who won the job from Allen in the early portion of 2017, was released. Andraz Struna who eventually supplanted both White and Allen was also on the list of players whose contracts were not exercised. The Struna decision is at least a mild surprise after he arrived as a free agent in early September. The 28-year old with 25 caps for Slovenia was an upgrade who found comfort out of the 4-3-3 shape in a relatively short amount of time. Given a full pre-season to train under Vieira, Struna appeared to be a potential full-time candidate at fullback.
Also released were Frederic Brillant, Miguel Camargo, Shannon Gomez, Eirik Johansen, Mikey Lopez, Jefferson Mena, Sean Okoli and John Stertzer.
Five players have had their options exercised for the 2018 campaign including Shelton, Kwame Awuah, Ronald Matarrita, Andre Rawls and Ben Sweat, who was signed as a trialist in the pre-season and proceeded to lock down the left back spot after Matarrita suffered a long-term injury. Sweat’s six assists ranked third among MLS fullbacks.
Among the players with guaranteed contracts for the 2018 season are McNamara, Villa, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Jack Harrison, Sean Johnson, Jonathan Lewis, Maxi Moralez, Alex Ring, James Sands, Rodney Wallace and Yangel Herrera.
SBI learned on Monday that Herrera’s loan with Manchester City is for two years. Therefore, the 19-year old Venezuelan who joined Moralez and Ring to form one of the daunting midfields in the league was inevitably returning for a second year. Prior to Monday, it was not clear if the prodigy who captained the Venezuelan U-20’s to the World Cup final was destined for another season in the Bronx.