Three and Out: Three Things From NYCFC’s First Three Games

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - March 18: Jack Harrison #11 of New York City FC challenged by Ambroise Oyongo #2 of Montreal Impact during the New York City FC Vs Montreal Impact regular season MLS game at Yankee Stadium on March 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Two home games, a season kick-off in the shiney new home of the Simbas, and now a couple of weeks off for good behaviour – I mean, World Cup Qualifiers. So what have we learned from NYCFC’s first three games?

Three and Out: Three Things From NYCFC’s First Three Games

When it works, it’s really great

Let us begin by basking in the glory of the win against D.C. United, clearly the high point of NYCFC’s first three games. Nearly twice as many passes as D.C. and nearly double the possession. More tackles, more success in the air, and more shots on target (though, interestingly, fewer shots taken.) But lets go beyond the statistics. The addition of Rodney Wallace has not only made David Villa more dangerous (because it forces defenses to address speed, strength and ball control on the wing), but it has made the team smarter; with Wallace on Villa’s flank, NYCFC were able to exploit Ben Olsen’s efforts to turn Nick DeLeon into DC’s version of DaMarcus Beasley – and then forced him to spend much of the rest of the match trying to figure out how to adjust when he’d realized that wasn’t going to work.

If only every team were D.C. United. They’re not, of course, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have an easy time with NYCFC when all cylinders are clicking like they were on March 12.

When it doesn’t, it’s still not so bad

Both the loss to Orlando and the draw with Montreal showed the team at something less than their best. And yet neither game was a disaster. Against Orlando, the team seemed to suffer from a hesitancy to shoot. You could chalk that up to opening day nerves, but I think it has more to do with a team still learning itself. When more than 45% of your starting XI are new to the organization, and when 60% of those new players are actually playing their first game in MLS, there’s bound to be a bit of confusion. Passes go awry. Layoffs that should have been held onto. Crosses that should have been shots. What fixes that? A season playing together. Which is just exactly what we have in front of us

The fact is NYCFC just couldn’t finish against Montreal. Every one of them admitted it after the game, and they were right. And you know what? It happens. But the opportunities were there. And we’ve all watched games in which the opportunities weren’t. Games in which sides were out of ideas and creativity. That’s not what we’ve seen in any of NYCFC’s first three games. And that bodes well – because the timing will come.

There is reason to be optimistic about the backline.

Perhaps you think I’m going to point to the fact that NYCFC have allowed only two goals in their first three games. Or maybe that one of those goals was against an Orlando side that looks to be a lot better than anybody thought they were going to be. Or that the clean sheet against DC United as proof that NYCFC had finally gotten its defensive house in order. But, you would be wrong.

Because, for starters, I would point out that D.C. has yet to score a goal against any team in MLS. And then I would remind you that in 2015, not only had NYCFC allowed fewer goals than they have this season, but that at a similar point in that season they had more points in the standings than they do now.

So why am I optimistic about the back line? Two reasons: differential and talk.

In NYCFC’s first three games they are at +3 goal differential. Only two teams in MLS are better than City (Atlanta and Portland) and they both had the benefit of beating up on Minnesota FC, a pleasure NYCFC won’t experience until the end of June. Last season at this point, NYCFC’s differential was zero and in 2015, they were at +2. Of course you may complain that +3 is a small improvement, but I’ll take it – especially with the team’s attacking personality.

And what do I mean by “talk”? I’m referring to the kind of talk that gets players overlapping for each other. Covering for each other when they make runs. And doing it better than they have in the past. I asked a few of them about why it was happening this season, especially with so many new players, and they all pointed to the efforts the players had made to spend time together off the pitch. And that makes sense. Because sometimes, the better you know the person, the better you know the player.

And the next three?

City host a San Jose Earthquakes side on April Fool’s Day who have taken more points than they have, but who have allowed more goals, too. And they’re coming off a loss – on the road – to Sporting KC. After that the team heads down the interstate for a rematch with DC United and then their first visit to the Philadelphia Union, a team who have yet to win this season and who have given up four goals.

So could the next three games go as well as NYCFC’s first three games? I dunno – I better get out of here before I jinx it.