April 25, 2016
Looking at 3 degrees of must-win situations with the Red Bulls, NYC FC and Cosmos
By Michael Lewis
It will be interesting if Andrea Pirlo will suit up or play for NYC FC against Montreal Wednesday night.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Welcome to the land of must-win.
I am talking about New York and New Jersey for its three professional men's soccer teams.
Over the course of consecutive weekends, the Red Bulls, New York City FC and the Cosmos accumulated exactly three points out of a possible 18.
That's right three points over six games.
Now that is not only downright embarrassing, but quite confounding and disconcerting for the three teams, who each have their own unique challenges and their own must-win situations.
* The Red Bulls (2-6, 6) have been trying to dig themselves out of a nightmare start, registered those points in a much-needed 3-2 victory over Orlando City FC Sunday night. They moved out of the Eastern Conference cellar past NYC FC.
* NYC FC (1-3-3, 6), which can't win at home, fell into last place.
* The Cosmos (2-2-0, 6) are in third place in the NASL, which means they are grossly underachieving for a championship side and on the verge of giving away an automatic playoff spot that will be awarded to the spring season champion.
Let's take them one-by-one:
The Supporters Shield winners seemingly could not do anything right the first seven games of the season. Players, mostly defenders, were going down like flies and the opposing goal had a do not enter sign on plastered across the front of it.
During a vital 10-minute span in that must-win game at Red Bull Arena Sunday night, the Red Bulls regained their 2015 swagger, scoring three times to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 advantage. Orlando City drew within a goal, but the Red Bulls managed to hold off the second-year side.
Just as importantly, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips finally snapped his season-long scoring drought with two goals placed six minutes apart. Like many forwards, BWP can be streaky one way or another. If he has rediscovered his mojo and scoring touch, the Red Bulls could be ready to go on a nice roll.
Remember the Red Bulls' 4-3 comeback home win over the Houston Dynamo when the soccer media and experts were wondering if New York was over its woes? Well, it didn't exactly pan out entered its patch-work center back era.
It should be noted that moving up in the Eastern Conference ladder these days isn't that difficult of a task. The conference is the weak sister of the league this season. The Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact lead the 10-team conference with 4-3-0 records and 12 points apiece. So a couple of wins would put the Red Bulls and NYC FC right back into the thick of things.
Friday's foe at RBA is FC Dallas (5-2-2, 17), which leads the Colorado Rapids (5-2-1, 16) by a point in the more competitive Western Conference. If the Red Bulls can manage another win, we could be talking about a team that is on the rise.
Not to sound like a broken record, but NYC FC sports a 1-3-3 record.
If that sounds familiar, well, it should. City was 1-3-3 in the first three matches under Jason Kreis in its 2015 expansion season, and we know how well that season worked out for the franchise.
Morever, NYC FC is riding the low of a six-game winless streak (0-3-3) and a two-match losing streak. Translated: City hasn't won in more than a month, not since a 4-3 road triumph over the Chicago Fire in its season opener March 6. And just as alarming is the team's abysmal home record -- 0-1-3 -- three measly points out of a possible of 12.
With two games at Yankee Stadium this week -- against the Impact Wednesday night and the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday afternoon -- both encounters are must, must, must win -- unless City wants to fall further behind the conference with a much deeper hole.
So far, Patrick Vieira's new attacking system has been a bust. The team has tallied but nine goals in seven appearances, allowing 12 in the process. City's defensive problems, a major Achilles Heel last season, have not been solved.
It was quite telling that not only did he bench Italian standout Andrea Pirlo, he did not bring him to Chester, Pa. for the team's latest loss, a 2-0 defeat to the Union Saturday.
"I was really just choosing the best team to try to win football matches," Vieira said, adding "Andrea was not here today. He may get in on Wednesday."
That has to bring up speculation on whether all is copacetic between player and coach. You don't bench a player such as Pirlo unless he is injured, a liability or having problems with the boss. And remember, Frank Lampard is taking forever to overcome his calf injury.
Quite simply, NYC FC must accumulate a minimum of four points out of six this week to call it successful week and not fall behind the rest of the conference.
If the Cosmos (2-2-0, 6) have any serious thoughts of winning the North American Soccer League spring season, they cannot lose to the first-place Carolina RailHawks at James M. Shuart Stadium next Sunday. If they fall, they will be nine points adrift from Carolina (4-0-0, 12) with five games remaining in the shortened season. The RailHawks would have to lose three matches and the Cosmos would have to run the table for the latter to have any chance.
Not probable, but not impossible.
A win would move them within three points of Carolina, giving them an important lifeline.
Stumbling twice in their first two road matches leaves very little room for error.
The reigning NASL champions have dropped two consecutive games for only the third time since returning to competitive soccer in 2013 (they're 4-3-5 after losses), bringing up memories of the 2014 season. After the Cosmos captured the 2013 crown, they stumbled in one game during the ensuing spring season and never found their rhythm before they were eliminated in the playoff semifinals.
Many observers, including yours truly, felt that this version of the Cosmos was a stronger team than last year's championship side. This team is supposed to have great depth with the likes of Juan Arango, Jair Arrieta and Niko Kranjcar, among others.
Every team has its own personality and while its still early in the season, the Cosmos have started to forge one of surrendering late goals. They enjoyed a 1-0 lead at Indy Eleven in the 90th minute and wound up with a 2-1 stoppage-time defeat last Saturday. They lost at Minnesota United FC this past Saturday night, 1-0, on a 90th-minute goal.
Is this an aberration or a trend?
Only time will tell.