As I write this, you’re celebrating the truths we hold to be self-evident. And RJ Allen, Jack Harrison and the rest of the team are enjoying the sites in lovely Vancouver ahead of their match with the Whitecaps tomorrow night. But fans should pause for a moment to acknowledge the historic level their team is playing at. How historic? Well, the three best runs of form NYCFC have had since their founding are: from June 18th through July 6th of last year, when they won four in a row. 12 points offered, 12 points taken. Second, also in 2016, from April 27th through May 18th, when they took 11 points from a possible 15. And third, from 2015 (yes, really), from May 30th through June 20th when they took ten points out of a possible 12.
But none of those match this year. Since losing to Atlanta United FC on May 28th, they’ve drawn once and won four times, taking 13 points out of 15 possible. There was a time in 2015 when the team didn’t take 13 points for over two months! Amazing, right?
Okay, that’s enough pausing. Because honestly, looking at NYCFC’s next five matches – against Vancouver, Toronto twice, Chicago, and the Red Bulls – things look to get very difficult indeed.
OK, OK, What’s Next? A Look at NYCFC’s Next Five Matches
In this recent run of form, NYCFC played the New England Revolution, the Philadelphia Union, the New York Red Bulls, the Seattle Sounders and the Lake Wobegone Whippets, I mean, Minnesota United FC. Those five sides have a combined record, as of this writing, of 28 wins, 20 draws and 40 losses. Which, in spite of one of those teams being the defending conference champion and another being the MLS Cup champion, is, um, not really great.
And the teams City will face in NYCFC’s next five matches (counting Toronto twice, since NYCFC are facing them twice)? Almost exactly the opposite – 44 wins, 19 draws and 24 losses. But wait, it gets worse. Because not only are all the teams (with the exception of Vancouver) conference rivals, they play three matches against the only two teams with better records than them in all of MLS. Look, losses hurt whoever you’re playing, but losses against the teams you’re trying to keep pace with in your conference for a playoff spot are a special kind of pain.
And speaking of special kinds of pain, let’s not forget that one of the five matches is against the Red Bulls. And while many were heralding NYCFC’s victory in Harrison this past month as the turning point in that vaunted rivalry, I’m not so sure. Yes, our bovine brothers are struggling a bit this year. But let us not forget that they were struggling last year too and yet they won the conference. And while the Red Bulls will have played one more match during this stretch than NYCFC (an Open Cup Quarterfinal against the Revolution), one has to expect that they would like nothing better than to pay City back for what happened on the 24th.
Since leaving Atlanta in May, NYCFC have had to travel no further than the Garden State for any of the matches in this run of form. That’s going to change in NYCFC’s next five matches. The team will make two trips north of the border – one of which is 2,500 miles away on the other side of the continent. And while they’ve historically had good luck in Canada (the playoffs notwithstanding), that’s still more wear and tear on the squad than they’ve had in recent weeks.
Yes, three of the matches will be at home, and yes, because of the Gold Cup there will be a break between the Vancouver match and the first Toronto match. But also remember that the Chicago match takes place a mere three days after the first Toronto meeting. A Toronto meeting which will feature a rested Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco – none of whom will be dealing with the Gold Cup.
And speaking of the Gold Cup, that’s another difference over NYCFC’s next five matches. With a few exceptions, NYCFC fielded a fairly consistent starting XI during their recent run of form. But NYCFC knew that was bound to change with the Gold Cup. Both Ronald Matarrita and Rodney Wallace were selected to join the Costa Rican national team, Miguel Camargo was selected for the Panamanian squad, and, of course, Sean Johnson has joined the US side. And while Matarrita’s injury renders him a moot point, and Camargo’s minutes have been limited, the loss of Wallace and Johnson are big for NYCFC. Both players have made substantial contributions to the team since joining, and replacing them will be difficult.
Fortunately for NYCFC, they won’t be the only side facing this challenge. Indeed, there may not be four more significantly depleted teams in MLS for City to face. Vancouver, for example, will be without three players and Toronto will be missing four. And while the Fire will be without only one player, one cannot underestimate the importance of Dax McCarty to that – or any side – he suits up for.
Unfortunately, however, by the time NYCFC faces the Red Bulls (who are sending two players to the Gold Cup, both from their backline – ouch), the tournament will be over. As it will be when NYCFC play their second match against Toronto.
Will those returning players rejuvenate their sides or upset a smooth-running machine? Will they even still be in the starting IX? Or will they find their places filled by new faces who made the most of their opportunity to play? Will the table look like it does now, or will NYCFC’s next five matches – and the corresponding matches of Toronto and Chicago – alter it beyond all recognition?