You’re heading up to the Bronx to watch the second leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs and you’re thinking about NYCFC‘S 2017 season. So you take the long way. You sneak through the Holland Tunnel and emerge among cobblestones and then drive up through Manhattan. You take the West Side Highway so you can watch the river go by – river run, as the fella says – and can watch the kids still playing baseball along the way. So you can think about last playoff game you watched in the Bronx, when your level of hope and expectation was this high. Maybe even higher, since that first leg in Toronto had been so much closer than this year’s in Columbus.
And then it begins to rain.
All of This; And Nothing: NYCFC’s 2017 Season
A Heavy Rain. A Holiday.
It was the kind of rain that is deceptive, that’s light but unyielding and by the end of the match would saturate the field, the players, and the faithful, leaving everyone dis-satisfied, frustrated and cold. A rain that a lesser writer would call a metaphor for the way the match played out, for the way NYCFC’s 2017 season played out. Aren’t you happy you’re not reading a lesser writer? So let’s try this metaphor instead: 412 years ago on this very day, Guy Fawkes and 12 conspirators tried to blow up the King of England as he opened Parliament. It didn’t work out so well. They were found out, tried, hanged, drawn and quartered. Did NYCFC fare better this afternoon?
They did, actually. Yes, even though the problems that have dogged the side at least since the match against the Houston Dynamo and maybe even longer plagued them still. Rodney Wallace had his best match in weeks, but was still clearly not 100 percent. Alex Ring was a more dominating presence in the midfield than he’d been but not quite the Ring of old. Yes Yangel Hererra was more involved in the playmaking but he was not the spark of life he’d been earlier in the season. And Jack Harrison was clearly struggling with what we later learned was a pulled groin (and would keep him out of an England U21 match in Ukraine) .
But the lads put in a valiant effort and while they ultimately fell short, one cannot doubt their drive, commitment and dedication. They left it all on the pitch that November day in the Bronx and they, probably more than any of us, wish they’d left a little more of it on the friendly confines of MAPFRE Stadium.
But was the season a loss?
All of This.
On the good side? In terms of the playoffs, a marked improvement. The team scored in an away playoff match. And they won a playoff match. Is the disappointment of 2016 erased? Yeah, probably. Toronto went years without winning a playoff game and look how well they’ve turned out. But beyond the playoffs? What about all of NYCFC’s 2017 season?
Well for starters, the team is better at every line – defense, midfield, up top. Sean Johnson not only actually earned NYCFC points during the season (I’m thinking of the match against the L.A. Galaxy in particular), but he even improved during the season. Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens were evolving into a dominant centerback pair until Chanot got injured, but Frederic Brilliant stepped in and played admirably all season long. In the midfield, Alex Ring was exactly the kind of hard man NYCFC has needed, and his partnership with Maxi Moralez, and then Yangel Hererra was, with help from Tommy McNamara, Miguel Camargo and Andrea Pirlo, creating match-up problems throughout MLS.
And up top, the ferocious attacking of Wallace created confusion on the wing for opposing defenses. That created more open space for David Villa and Jack Harrison, which probably had something to do with Villa scoring only one less goal than he did in 2016, and Harrison scoring six more than in his rookie season.
And if they scored fewer goals this season than last, they gave up significantly fewer too. Which coaches will take that every day of the week.
But there are concerns, of course. If there weren’t they’d have beaten Columbus and be training for Toronto FC.
On the one hand, I think what we learned from NYCFC’s 2017 season is that the team isn’t particularly deep. When the starting XI are healthy, great. But when injuries, international call-ups or yellow card accumulations reared their ugly heads, every NYCFC fan held their breath. And while that’s something that plagues most sides, it’s something that the off-season is the perfect opportunity to address.
Which begs the question, just what will next season look like? Who’s your next Designated Player now that Pirlo has retired to his vineyard? Who do you lose in the expansion draft in December? McNamara started his career in Los Angeles, does he continue it there? He certainly feels like a Bob Bradley kind of player. But so does RJ Allen, and defenders with MLS experience are a rare commodity.
And look at all the players that transfermarkt.com says will be out of contract on New Year’s Eve: Frederic Brilliant, Ethan White, Ronald Matarrita, Ben Sweat, RJ Allen, Kwame Awuah, Yangel Hererra, Mikey Lopez, James Sands, Miguel Camargo, John Stertzer, Rodney Wallace, Tommy McNamara, Khiry Shelton, Jonathan Lewis and Ugo Okoli. Now, I’ve heard rumblings that this list is inaccurate, and with MLS’, ahem, curious approach to contracts, that’s entirely possible. But that said, there are just enough guys on it that made a big impact on NYCFC’s 2017 season to make anyone who follows the side a bit nervous.
Nervous like they were during that final playoff match in the Bronx. Which, in many respects, was probably the best metaphor for the season after all. There was progress, but not enough progress. Success, but a success that still leaves a hollow feeling. Something to build upon, but with whom?