July 19, 2016
The good, bad and ugly on NYC FC, Red Bulls, Cosmos
By Michael Lewis
David Villa is enjoying a magical season for NYC FC, which needs to bring in some insurance for the striker to help him up front and just in case he gets injured.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
After the dust settled on another memorable weekend for our area's three pro men's soccer teams, I took a day off to gather my thoughts on New York City FC, the Red Bulls and Cosmos.
New York City FC
Well, NYC FC is for real -- on the road. City raised its away mark to an incredible 6-3-1 with a 3-1 triumph at fourth-place Montreal Sunday. Yes, I know the team struggled at Sporting Kansas City (and its pressure) the week prior, but you have to admit Patrick Vieira's side has been quite impressive in piling up the points and results away from Yankee Stadium.
And this week the second-year Major League Soccer team finds itself in a "fortunate" position as it will be forced to play on the road again -- at Red Bull Arena against the Red Bulls in the third installment of the Hudson River Derby. Of all the away venues City will have to play in, this will be the most hostile arena. But its players will love the extra elbow room on the field to play Vieira's preferred game of a build-up from the back.
NYC FC is in a good place these days, playing well, well enough to be in first place in the Eastern Conference. Vieira, like any other coach, claims his side can play better. And he's right.
There still are a number of weaknesses with this team, starting in central defense with Frederic Brillant, who has been inconsistent and leads the league with two own goals, and most recently with Jefferson Mena, whose play can go from brilliant to being a major liability. The recent addition of Maxime Chanot should help the middle of defense.
Andrea Pirlo may not be the fastest player in the league, at least not with his feet, but his mind is quicker than most players (at times he reminds me of this guy named Beckenbauer who patrolled the midfield for the Cosmos three decades ago) and he has been able to spray passes to the wingers and forwards. I always felt Frank Lampard would score for City, although the jury is still out on his defense. Of course, if NYC FC continues to score first and holds the lead and Vieira brings on a defensive-minded sub in the late going, that might be moot.
And about "Fortunate" Frank scoring all those "lucky" goals, well, a good goal-scorer will score all sorts of goals. They don't have to be beautiful ones all the time. Heck, the most beautiful part of scoring goals is the celebration afterwards. We like to talk about someone who has the knack or has the nose for a goal. While he hasn't scored one off his nose, at least not yet, Lampard fits that category to a T.
Up top, David Villa continues to prove his the premier striker in the league. The one thing I fear is if he ever goes down with a major injury. Does City have anyone who can step in and score on a consistent basis. The answer is no. The team needs another forward who can fill the net 10-12 times a year.
Quite simply, the Red Bulls are suffering from a crisis of confidence. They have proven they cannot close out games or hold onto leads, particularly on the road.
Sunday night's 2-2 loss, err, I mean tie, at the Philadelphia Union, was Exhibit A (hey, it felt like a defeat, a 4-2 setback the way Philly came at New York).
When your play-making midfielder is so blunt about the team's play and so worrisome about its prospects, you know the team is in trouble.
"We played like boys, not men," Sacha Kljestan said after the Red Bulls gave away a two-goal second-half lead.
"We made mistakes, we make the same mistakes we made in the past [Chris] Pontius scores a goal again the exact same way he scored against us last time. We aren't learning from our mistakes.
"It's going to be a long season if we don't learn from our mistakes. How can they just play balls up the field and be on the run basically at our goal from the sides. It's mistakes. We're not men, we don't manage the game well. We were up a man and we had to go five in the back because we aren't getting the job done defensively. It's ridiculous. It's a big disappointing result."
Yes, the Red Bulls started out slowly due to major injuries to their center backs. With Aurelien Collin, Damien Perrinelle and Ronald Zubar in the middle, that should not be a problem.
During last season's Supporters Shield run, the midfield proved to be the super-engine of the team as all five players performed admirably. This year, they haven't been as consistent as popular left wing Lloyd Sam, who had underachieved, paid the price with a trade to D.C. United.
His spot on the right side if up for grabs. Alex Muyl started there against Philly. Gonzalo Veron, a Designated Player who was brought in last year to push a starter out of a slot, has been downright disappointing and bordering on being a failure. If you are a DP, you need to be an impact player and Veron has shown little to earn that status, whether it is setting up teammates or scoring goals himself.
The Red Bulls will have an opportunity to regain their confidence and accrue three points against City at RBA Sunday. At the moment, however, I would give the advantage to the team on the east side of the Hudson. NYC FC is in form, the Red Bulls are out of it. Until they show otherwise over a period of games, I will be skeptical as to whether they can get their confidence and momentum back.
Winning at home against Orlando City SC, which has gone through a major crisis itself recently by jettisoning its coach, is good, but is not a barometer of success against the league's elite.
Saying all of that, the Red Bulls have plenty of time to right themselves to make a successful playoff run. The key word is time , as to when they will be able to get their act together.
Unless things radically change, the only way the Cosmos will be able to successfully defend their North American Soccer League championship is to host both playoff matches at home. At Shuart Stadium, they are a perfect 7-0. Away from Hofstra University they are a rather ordinary 2-5.
I am saying this with the Cosmos leading the fall table with a 3-1-0 mark and the overall standings by two points over Indy Eleven. New York is 9-5-0 and 27 points, while Indy is at 6-1-7 and 25 points.
I am not saying the sky is falling, but given the Cosmos' history and great expectations, well, much is expected every time the players take the field.
When they began the NASL season in April, the Cosmos arguably boasted the deepest side in the league. Their central midfield options included Niko Kranjcar and Michael Lahoud. They also had Gabriel Farfan as an option to fill in on the back line.
Since then Kranjcar has signed with Rangers in Scotland, Lahoud was pulled back on his loan from the Union and was sold to Miami FC. Farfan, who had been on loan for the spring season, also was sold to Miami.
The last time I spoke with head coach Giovanni Savarese, he said there were no serious plans to add players down the stretch, but he and the team are allowed to change their minds.
Whether the Cosmos decide to pull the trigger on a player or bring in another loan player, one thing is certain: the likelihood of signing another player the caliber of a Marcos Senna isn't that great.
Senna, who retired after last season, brought so many intangibles to the team. His ability to win balls and quickly turn them into an attack was unparalleled in the league. Not many players are blessed with that physical presence, vision and skills in that holding midfield spot.
Don't get me wrong. The Cosmos are a good team, not necessarily a great one at the moment. The depth isn't as, well, deep as it once was.
They might run the table and go unbeaten at Shuart, where they will play 15 regular-season matches through the end of October. And assuming they qualify, then comes back-to-back weekends of playoffs.
Unless proven otherwise, they probably will need to play those games in Hempstead, N.Y. to take a victory lap with the Soccer Bowl trophy for the second successive season and third time in four years.
If they have to perform that away, it won't be impossible, but much more difficult, given their road woes.