By Glenn Crooks
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New York City Football Club has shown timely resilience in its second year of existence.
When Patrick Vieira’s club was thrashed and embarrassed during a 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium in May, it recovered admirably to win five of its next seven matches (5-1-1). Following a lifeless road loss to Sporting KC in July, City regained its edge six days later in a dominating 3-1 road triumph against Didier Drogba and the Montreal Impact.
New York City deserved its lofty status — first place in the Eastern Conference.
Now currently third in the table, NYCFC meets FC Dallas, the best team in Major League Soccer, on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. Dallas is the same team that gashed a large opening in the New England Revolution defense en route to a dominating 4-2 win on Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup Championship.
Last weekend, New York City lost soundly at New England, 3-1. The result, in terms of score line, was kind to the visitors.
“I think we didn’t play at all,” Vieira said. “I think we lacked the desire to compete against them.”
The absence of a “desire to compete” in the first 45 minutes of each of the last three matches (one win, two losses) has been a source of consternation. The attack has become stale and predictable in recent weeks. The heroics of Frank Lampard in the 3-2 home win over D.C. United (and the gift from D.C. fullback, Luke Mishu), temporarily masked a prominent concern heading into the final five matches of the regular season.
Can New York City regain its mojo?
“I thought in the first half, we were a little too passive,” Vieira said after the D.C. triumph.
“I was really disappointed with the first half,” Vieira remarked after the 2-1 loss to Orlando City on Aug. 29. “I think we didn’t play with any intensity or aggression.”
The post-game comments from Vieira are alarming as a proper mentality has been largely absent in three consecutive matches during the most critical time on the MLS calendar. Perhaps more startling, the coaching staff nor the players have been able to sort out an issue that is a “controllable” — effort.
“This doesn’t reflect our performance in the last few months,” Vieira said following the match against New England. “We lacked of creativity on the field and when you don’t have that, it is difficult to play football matches — any type of football matches.”
That musty smell is not from my garage that was last cleaned in the spring of 2015 (“Yes, Mary, I’ll be getting to it soon”). It is NYCFC on the attacking side of the ball. What earlier this season seemed like a revelation in MLS (4-3-3, building out of the back) has been solved by opponents. Coupled with inadequate energy, New York City is creating fewer quality chances. David Villa was pulled from the New England match due to an ineffective 63 minutes which mirrored his recent form.
The opponent Saturday, FC Dallas, may not be the perfect team to try to solve attacking woes. Dallas permits a mere 3.6 shots on frame per game, tied with Sporting KC for the fewest in MLS.
Dallas also provides a severe challenge with its own attacking options, led by midfielder Mauro Diaz. Despite the departure of Fabian Castillo during the transfer window, Dallas has remained the favorite for the Supporters Shield. Dallas has a four-point edge on the L.A. Galaxy and is five points clear of Colorado, although the Rapids have two matches in hand.
FC Dallas had a club-record 19-game home unbeaten string ended by the Colorado last weekend with a 1-0 loss. Missing from the starting XI that day was Diaz, the playmaker who dazzled with a one-goal, three-assist performance against New England in Frisco, Texas, on Tuesday. City has had difficulty with players in the league who float and find pockets and space between the lines. The Argentinian, Diaz, is master class.
City supporters should expect an elevated performance from their side on Saturday. Under Vieira, NYCFC has shown a propensity to tackle adversity in a favorable manner. Solving the mystery of the lack of passion in recent fixtures is his latest task.
— Lampard, who scored his 12th goal of the season during the loss to New England, currently has the highest conversion rate of any player in MLS history with at least 10 goals. Lampard has tallied on 37.5 percent of his shots on goal.
— Castillo transferred to Trabzonspor in Turkey. In the 20 matches he started this season, Dallas averaged 2 points per game. In the nine matches he has not been on the roster, that number falls to 1.2 points per contest.
— The Red Bulls, level on points with New York City but in second place on goal differential, defeated Alianza FC, 1-0, in the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday night at Red Bull Arena. Second-half substitute Sacha Kljesten scored the game winner in the 90th minute. With an important MLS showdown at Toronto ahead on Sunday, Jesse Marsch started only six regulars in the mid-week match.
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