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December 28, 2016
The early struggles, the rise and fall of NYC FC

David Villa scored a team-best 23 goals en route to league MVP honors.
David Villa scored a team-best 23 goals en route to league MVP honors.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
There are many ways to look at and parse New York City FC's second season in Major League Soccer.

On one hand, City made incredible strides in its second season, riding the addition of a new coach, the same three, marquee Designated Players and the infusion of some talent, domestic and international to not only reach the playoffs but to contend for the Eastern Conference crown after a slow start.

On the other hand, after surpassing just about everybody's expectations after a horrible 10-17-7 maiden season in 2015, the Blues felt quite blue by not only being eliminated in the conference semifinals, but in embarrassing fashion.

All in all, though it was quite a ride, a rollercoaster one at that.

Still, it was a tremendous improvement over the first year.

Team captain David Villa continued his scoring prowess with 23 goals -- second best in the league to the Red Bulls' Brad Wright-Phillips -- while securing league MVP honors as well.

There were, however, few signs early in the season that City would have an opportunity to be frustrated in the playoffs because it could not secure points at Yankee Stadium.

In fact, under new coach Patrick Vieira and his new attacking system that used as many as three forwards, NYC FC accumulated points on the road but stumbled to a 1-3-5 mark and only eight points at home while leaving 19 out of a possible 27 points on the table.

Once the Blues got their act together, there was no stopping them they rose to the top of the Eastern Conference, battling the Red Bulls for the lead down the stretch. They settled for a second-place finish and a 15-10-9 record.

Besides Villa, DP No. 3, former English international midfielder Frank Lampard finally shook off injuries and was a vital complement to Villa, connecting 12 times in only 19 appearances.

The team traded up for New York City resident and Englishman Jack Harrison in the MLS SuperDraft and he lived up to his billing as a top draft choice by becoming a regular before tiring towards the end of his longest season.

DP No. 3, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, a key member of Italy's 2006 World Cup championship side, showed his stamina by playing in all but two of the 34-game regular season and the long hot summer.

City's Achilles' Heel was its defense, or lack thereof. When things went south, it was a difficult hole of which to dig out. Case in point: that humiliating 7-0 home defeat to the archrival Red Bulls on May 21.

It wasn't until Luxembourg international defender Maxime Chanot joined the team last summer that the backline had any semblance of being a more solidified unit.

The Blues entered their first playoffs hopeful and ended it disappointed and stunned, losing the aggregate goals series to Toronto FC, 7-0. They dropped a 2-0 decision on the road, before imploding in a 5-0 debacle of a result at home.

Vieira raised eyebrows by benching regular goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who had only missed two starts over the past two seasons, for little-used Eirik Johansen.

"We still have to work very hard to build up a strong team because there is a gap between Toronto and ourselves," Vieira said.

Still piqued by not even being among the final three MVP finalists, striker Sebastian Giovinco led the onslaught with a hat-trick.

“When you don’t defend well as a team, you struggle," Vierra said. "When you don’t defend well at all, you expose yourself and quality players like Giovinco express their talent.”

Added Villa: “It’s not about one thing or two things, it’s not about giving up a lot of goals or score a lot of goals. Everything is bad, and we play against a better team than us in this round.”

Villa was a non-factor in the match.

“When I go home, it’s difficult today for me to sleep because we lost 5-0,” he said. “But I will try to sleep with a steady conscience because I gave 100 percent in every time of my life for NYC FC. Of course, today I wanted to score a hat-trick like [Toronto striker Sebastian] Giovinco and give the victory to my team, but I couldn't.”
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