With a Little Luck: NYCFC’s first four matches

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - April 12: New York City FC head Coach Patrick Vieira with Jack Harrison #11 of New York City FC leaving the field after their sides 2-1 win which included a goal from Jack Harrison during the New York City FC Vs San Jose Earthquakes regular season MLS game at Yankee Stadium on April 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Last week I was trading insights with Mike Anderer on Blue City Radio and he raised an interesting point about NYCFC’s first four matches. None of the teams that NYCFC have faced thus far have been at 100%. Kaka left so early in the Orlando City SC match that he was a defacto no-show. Luciano Acosta didn’t suit up for the match that DC United lost to NYCFC. Marco Donadel didn’t play for the Impact de Montreal in the draw. And because of International duty, NYCFC faced a Godoy-less San Jose Earthquakes.

With a Little Luck: NYCFC’s first four matches

And while I will be the first to say that those are the breaks of the game, it does raise the interesting question that although in NYCFC’s first four matches they have a better record in 2017 than they did in either 2016 or 2015, are they actually good, or have they just been inordinately lucky?

In other words, would the addition of Acosta to the DC midfield have so altered NYCFC’s domination of that game to have transformed three points into one? Would the addition of Donadel to the Montreal attack have turned that one point (which looked for so long like three) into none? And would the addition of Godoy have enabled San Jose to dominate NYCFC and steal at least one point in the Bronx?

It’s a fair question when you look at the stats. According to whoscored.com, Anibal Godoy is still San Jose’s top rated player – a full point higher than anyone else on the side. Luciano Acosta is still the highest rated player on DC United. Donadel is in the top 4 and while Kaka hasn’t really played enough this season for anyone to adequately measure him, he did top the team in 2016.

But digging a little deeper in to the numbers, a somewhat different story emerges.

In neither of the two games Montreal played before facing NYCFC, did Donadel seem to have dominated. His impact on their draw with Seattle seems marginal as it did in their loss to San Jose.

As for DC, they had one match ahead of the NYCFC game (a draw against Sporting KC), and Acosta wasn’t even on the bench for that one. He did see the pitch in their loss to Columbus Crew after the NYCFC match, but left in the 74th minute. And while it does not appear that he was responsible for the team’s defeat, it also doesn’t appear he did very much to stop it either.

So it would appear that Donadel and Acosta, as good as they both may be, seem not to, at the very least, have hit their strides yet. Making their projected impact on the matches against NYCFC probably negligable). So let’s lock down those four points.

The same cannot however, be said of Anibal Godoy, who would appear to have been a bullet that NYCFC had been very fortunate to miss.

Godoy was the top rated player by whoscored.com on either side in both San Jose’s win against Vancouver AND against Montreal (topping 9 points both times). In their loss to Sporting Kansas City he was, it is true, rather off his form, though he still lead the team in touches and passing accuracy (for Quakes players with more than 50 touches).

Would he have been enough to turn NYCFC’s win into a draw? Actually, I think it quite likely. And since NYCFC were able to pull out the win only with a late goal, his participation might have made the outcome much worse.

And of course, without that win, NYCFC would actually be a point behind their 2016 and 2015 seasons.

So are NYCFC good, or just lucky?

As with most things, it’s a bit of both. Clearly the team has a higher ceiling than we’ve seen in past seasons. And they’ve been able to take advantage of some lucky breaks the season has thrown them thus far.

But what’s far more important is that through luck and skill they seem to have generated a bit of momentum for themselves. And that – especially at this early stage of the season – cannot be dismissed lightly.

Because momentum is a fickle beast. It shows up in the blink of an eye and it disappears just as quickly. It doesn’t care if it’s “your turn.” It doesn’t care if you’ve “been good.” It doesn’t care if you “deserve it.”. It just shows up. Ask any White Sox fan who watched it appear on a dropped third strike and lead that team to their first World Series championship in nearly a century. And just as quickly, it will hit the road. Ask any golf fan who watched it push the wheels completely off of Greg Norman at the Masters in 1996.

The smart ones use the success it brings to build confidence for the dark days that will inevitably follow. And they don’t sit around arguing about whether it’s legitimate or not. Otherwise people like Mike and me would have nothing to do.