November 8, 2016
There is no excuse on what happened to NYC FC, none whatsoever
New York City FC head coach Patrick Vieira made some questionable and controversial decisions for his team's Eastern Conference semifinal series with Toronto FC.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis
Use whatever adjective you feel comfortable with to describe an extremely uncomfortable New York City FC performance in its 5-0 elimination defeat to Toronto FC from the MLS Cup playoffs.
Here are some that could be deemed applicable:
There are many others, but I must get on with this column and try not to break the internet.
After a fabulous season in which the Blues soared to new heights in their rather young existence, City flamed out big time in the playoffs.
In fact, the side might have set a new low standard that will be difficult to duplicate or surpass. The 7-0 aggregate score was the worst in the league's 21-year playoff history. The previous record was 5-0 by the LA Galaxy over Real Salt Lake in 2014. Incidentally, that was a year after Jason Kreis left RSL to become NYC FC's first head coach and we all remember how that turned out.
If I didn't know any better, I would say the team gave up on the game. Which brings us to the thorny question: did the team give up on head coach Patrick Vieira?
Of course, no player will admit that, at least not publicly to the media, if it was true.
But actions spoke much louder than words at Yankee Stadium.
First of all, let's give Vieira a lot of credit for turning around the sorry fortunes of the second-year expansion team. He did a marvelous job during the pre and regular season, replacing several players and forming a dangerous side that normally deployed three forwards in a league that has become accustomed to using two or even one man up top. After a stumbling start at home, City found itself and was in the Eastern Conference race until the final weeks of the season.
Then something happened.
In the first leg in Toronto, Vieira decided to veer from the successful attacking strategy, including building up from the back, which City such a feared side home and away and it suffered with a 2-0 loss.
Vieira also decided to replace starting goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who had played 66 out of a possible 68 matches the last two seasons. Eirik Johansen, a Norwegian native who came up through the Manchester City system (NYC FC's owners), was used in the regular-season finale and then surprisingly was in the Starting XI in the loss at BMO Field in Toronto.
Outside of an injury or some sort of insubordination, you just don't replace your goalkeeper in the final regular season game on the eve of the playoffs.
You can't blame Johansen for the loss Sunday, but you have to wonder how a stunning change like that affected the team.
Saunders might not be MLS Best XI caliber, but he was the man who faced a barrage of shot last year (123 saves) behind a rather shoddy defense -- team and backline.
One source claimed that Saunders was an important part of the locker room fabric and by benching him Vieira lost some of his players.
If that is true, then Vieira has much to clean up in the offseason.
It certainly looked like the Blues gave up Sunday. From the opening kick off they lacked fire as Toronto hammered home the third goal of the series only minutes in. The team was listless and quite frankly, it was the most lackluster and most embarrassing performance I have seen by a team since I began covering the very first playoffs in 1996.
Shocking, completely shocking.
Where was Andrea Pirlo? Where was Frank Lampard? Captain David Vila? He was isolated up front.
"Everything was bad," Villa said.
In contrast, FC Dallas, down 3-0 entering its semifinal second-leg encounter with the Seattle Sounders, was relentless from start to finish. The Texas side never gave up in what ended in a 2-1 win, a result, which was not enough to reverse that three-goal deficit.
But Dallas never gave up, which is a lot more than I can say to those players who wore the NYC FC uniform at Yankee Stadium Sunday night.