I could say “I told you so” but that would be immature. And more to the point, it wouldn’t explain what went wrong for NYCFC in Saturday’s match against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
And what went wrong for NYCFC started early. Before the team even hit the pitch.
The Boston Rag: What Went Wrong for NYCFC in New England
It started with the starting XI
Why Steven Mendoza over Tommy McNamara? Why Jefferson Mena on the backline instead of Maxime Chanot and Jason Hernandez over R.J. Allen? And why Federico Bravo in the midfield over Andoni Iraola?
Was it to rest those players as the team heads into the final matches in a tight divisional battle that involves essentially every team?
But why rest them for this match? Why rest them for a match against a weak divisional rival who was undoubtedly distracted by the opportunity to salvage its season in the US Open Cup a few days later? Why not pull out all the stops, play the best XI you had, try and take a point on the road, and then rest key players on Saturday against FC Dallas.
Because let’s face it, the Dallas match is – or should be – essentially meaningless. Yes, of course, wins are what the side is after. And yes, of course, a win is better for the playoffs than a loss. And of course, Dallas will have just played that same US Open Cup Final a few days earlier, and may be suffering some kind of hangover.
But if you can’t beat the Revolution, then why in God’s name do you think you can beat a team that looks poised to win the MLS treble? What kind of sense does that make? That’s like saying “I’m gonna take it easy against Donald Duck over here because, worst case scenario, I still like my chances against Muhammad Ali next week.”
I don’t know. Maybe that wasn’t Patrick Vieira’s thinking at all. Maybe he thought this combination would confuse the Revolution. Add a little spark. Create a little energy.
Yeah, not so much.
Because Saturday’s match in Foxborough was like watching the Orlando City SC match, but with less rain and more muskets. Except for a few brief minutes at the beginning of the second half when RJ Allen subbed on, the team had no passion, no fire, no nothing. All that wonderful momentum from the match against D.C. United – gone.
And Something Else Gone Too
Take a look at two stats on Whoscored.com for a second. They’ll tell you the whole story of what went wrong for NYCFC in New England.
The first stat is the points Whoscored.com gives out to every player, a grade, if you will of their performance. Now, without clicking away, who do you think got the highest marks for NYCFC? Goal scorer Frank Lampard? Captain David Villa? No. Josh Saunders. Josh Saunders who gave up three goals and still his grade was at least a point higher than all but one other player on NYCFC. Look, no one’s been a stronger supporter of Saunders than me, but when your goalie – who got shellacked – is putting in that much better a performance than the rest of the team, it means things were worse for the team than the final score would indicate.
And the other stat? It’s more of an observation, really. Look in the “Match Report” where the strengths each team demonstrated during the match are listed. Do you see what it says for NYCFC?
“Creating chances through individual skill”.
Excuse me? “Individual skill?” It wasn’t “individual skill” that beat the Los Angeles Galaxy. It wasn’t “individual skill” that beat the New York Red Bulls. And it wasn’t “individual skill” that dominated the Colorado Rapids or that came back not once, but twice, against D. C. United.
It was “team play”. It was team skill. Because when New York City FC play like a team, they are almost unbeatable.
And when they don’t, they lose to seventh place sides like the New England Revolution.
Which is why now, Saturday’s match is almost a must-win.
Sure, Soccerstats.com tells us that NYCFC can still make the playoffs if, in their remaining five matches, they at least draw twice. And with a schedule that includes games against the three worst teams in MLS, even someone as superstitious as me has to believe that’s at least likely.
But how do you want NYCFC to go into the playoffs? As a bunch of individuals in free fall, eking out meager draws against teams they should destroy, only to find themselves in a road play-in game against the Red Bulls?
Because the nature of the loss in New England means that these are the questions facing NYCFC again, questions they should have put to bed long ago.
And that is the most important thing that went wrong for NYCFC.
Oh, and yeah, I told you so…