Turns out March can be a cruel month too. Is NYCFC in for a stormy spring?
There’s an adage that good teams win at home and tie on the road. By that measure, NYCFC didn’t exactly have a great start to the season: the team dropped five points over the first four games, and only drew on the road by blowing a two-goal lead at Orlando City. (If it’s any consolation, across a season our rule of thumb would give you a full 2.0 points per game, a mark only six MLS teams have ever matched. Maybe it’s a little optimistic.)
March was an incredibly frustrating month. NYCFC needed to play well not only because of the congested back end of the schedule, but to exorcise the demons of a team that on paper should be one of the better sides in league but only has four wins in the last 19 matches. Instead we got some decent home games—but disappointing results—against top tier teams in D.C. United and LAFC, then looked like the tactical embodiment of a lost puppy dog on the road at Toronto.
While the bad news is that Dome Torrent still needs to prove that he can win, the good news is that the rest of the Eastern Conference decided to implode with us. Frank De Boer hasn’t won a game since 2016 and is steering Atlanta toward a Wooden Spoon; Brad Friedel wishes aloud that New England fans would beat up his players; and over in Harrison, the Kaku transfer drama has dragged into the regular season, leading Chris Armas to bench his DP over an angsty tweet while the Red Bulls racked up a couple losses.
It’s difficult to label games must-wins as early as April, but Dome needs to figure how to hold back the storm clouds, or the NYCFC season could be a step closer to being washed away.
Montreal Impact (Home)
Saturday, April 6, 1:00 pm
If NYCFC’s beatdown at Toronto sent you into hiding from the rest of the MLS weekend, you might have missed Sporting KC’s 7-1 dismantling of Montreal. Like NYCFC minus Maxi Moralez, Montreal’s lineup had an obvious hole: superstar Ignacio Piatti was out with a knee injury and will be unavailable again this Saturday—a bittersweet ordeal, as this would have been his last game ever at Yankee Stadium. NYCFC needs a home win here, and that starts with introducing our new striker and sorting out the midfield.
Minnesota United (Away)
Saturday, April 13, 5:00 pm
In an amazing troll job, Don Garber and company picked NYCFC to open up Minnesota’s gorgeous new stadium. While the Loons got off to a quick start with a couple wins, they reverted to form with a bad loss at New England that reminded you Adrian Heath is still their coach. It’s hard to know what to expect from this game. Darwin Quintero is obviously a factor you need to gameplan for, but Minnesota’s counterattacking strategy tends to revolve around waiting for him do something spectacular. Let’s just hope Dome decides to move away from his triple-defensive-midfielder road lineup.
D.C. United (Away)
Sunday, April 21, 4:00 pm
An early return to D.C. sets the stage for a pivotal road test. Not much has changed from last month: Paul Arriola has exceeded expectations and earned an extended look with the USMNT, but D.C.’s depth beyond the starting XI has not been challenged so far. Their table-topping March might be a little exaggerated, as no team has outperformed their expected goal differential by more, and just last week they needed a controversial foul call and generous free kick spot to beat Orlando City.
A couple interesting questions in this one: Can NYCFC exploit D.C.’s poor possession game? And what will Dome do to stop their dangerous set pieces? One thing’s for sure, bottling up Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney will be a lot harder at Audi Field.
Chicago Fire (Home)
Wednesday, April 24, 7:00 pm
The first midweek fixture of season is a gentle one, at home against the Chicago Fire. They’ve added ex-Atlético Madrid attacking mid Nicolas Gaitan to the roster as a TAM player, but he’s expected to become a DP next year when Bastian Schweinsteiger likely retires. By the time this match rolls down, Gaitan should be fully integrated into the lineup, but that’s no excuse not to win at home against an Eastern Conference bottom feeder.
Orlando City (Home)
Saturday, April 27th, 1:00 pm
Orlando City makes a return trip to Yankee Stadium to cap off the month. Although he hasn’t scored yet, Nani is a quality player who’s made his teammates better. The major question marks revolve around skipper James O’Connor, who like his New York City counterpart hasn’t won many games since taking over midseason last year. It remains to be seen if the former Louisville City coach is an MLS-caliber manager, but he’s shown more tactical flexibility this year, trying a 3-4-1-2 to complement his usual 4-2-3-1. The three-back system would make sense in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, but Dome should come better prepared this time. ❧
Image: Martin Johnson Heade, Hummingbird and Apple Blossoms