By Glenn Crooks
» More Columns
It was not the best weekend for the City Football Group.READ MORE: Wild Roll To Win Against Devils
On Sunday, Manchester City had its derby win streak halted at four when Manchester United punished an uninspired City and goalkeeper Joe Hart, 4-2, at Old Trafford. The road side was stalwart early to open the scoring but was lethargic for the remainder of the match, squandering an opportunity to secure third place in the BPL table. Fourth-place City currently trails United by four points — and the calls to sack Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini have intensified.
“It is my responsibility, and the only way we can change this is by winning games,” said Pellegrini in a BBC interview. “I am not talking about my position. It is not important.”
Fifth-place Liverpool can move to within four points of Manchester City and the coveted Champions League position with a home win on Monday against Newcastle at Anfield.
On Saturday at PPL Park in Philadelphia, Vincent Nogueira scored a stoppage-time goal which propelled the Union to its first win of the season – a 2-1 triumph over New York City FC. Down a goal at the interval, NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis inserted Khiry Shelton to start the second half. Shelton’s pace and athleticism were a factor in stretching the distance between the Union lines, thus giving midfielders David Villa, Ned Grabavoy and Mix Diskerud more time and space.
Ultimately, the overlapping Josh Williams hit a cross to Villa, who danced around a defender and walked the ball in for his second MLS goal and the equalizer in this match. Philadelphia, which dropped a certain three points at Sporting KC last week with TWO stoppage-time tallies against, benefited from some shoddy work on the defensive side by NYCFC on the 92nd-minute goal.
Unlike Pellegrini, Kreis is secure in his employment – which has nonetheless become more complex since Diskerud will be unavailable for the rematch with Philadelphia this Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. He was called in to the U.S. national team for the friendly against Mexico on Wednesday.
“I’m excited to see the guys again,” said Diskerud, who will earn his 28th cap. “It’s one of the biggest games you can play in as a U.S. national team member.”
Kreis was curious as to why Diskerud was left off the USMNT squad for recent friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland. Now he will have to sort out his replacement for a critical home match. NYCFC has been stuck on five points since March 21.
The challenge for Kreis and his staff is manifold: review Saturday’s match and provide a tactical plan that will enable his side to secure three important points without the services of an important engine in the midfield. An anomaly in the schedule also offers a third match on the week, this Sunday versus Portland.
Kreis’ tendency this season — when forced to make lineup adjustments due to injury, suspensions or international call-ups — has been to minimize the movement of players. If he chooses to maintain the 4-2-3-1 shape, he may favor rookie Kwadwo Poku to replace Diskerud and play next to Andrew Jacobson.
We’ve only caught a glimpse of Poku in the preseason and the regular season, but he was electrifying as a second-half substitute (for Jacobson) in the 1-0 home loss to Sporting KC. Poku played a full 90 minutes for the affiliate Wilmington Hammerheads on Sunday, a 3-0 victory at Red Bull Arena against Red Bull II.READ MORE: DeRozan, LaVine Help Bulls Hang On To Beat Knicks
Kreis could choose to start either Mehdi Ballouchy, Javier Calle, Tony Taylor or Thomas McNamara – all attacking midfielders. The versatile Ned Grabavoy, easily the most consistent field player through five matches, could then move into a holding role with Jacobson.
The departure of Diskerud is disruptive to the developing relationships in the midfield. Kreis has designed an attacking shape that allows for mobility, flexibility and interchanging – the most vital of which is the rotation of the holding midfielders, Jacobson and Diskerud.
Kreis could choose to alter the system and play the midfield diamond that he favored at Real Salt Lake. However, there would be legitimate concern with Jacobson holding on his own. Midfielder, Zach Pfeffer, 20, created numerous scoring chances in the middle of the park on Saturday against NYCFC.
Regardless of shape or system, Shelton should be unveiled as a starter on Thursday. He injects energy to an attack with a dearth of goals in recent matches (just one in the last three games.)
– Other than his contract status, is there any reason for Frank Lampard to stay with Manchester City through the summer? The MLS transfer window closes on May 12 (it was May 6 last season). It would be reasonable to assume that NYCFC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna has investigated options that would release the 36-year-old midfielder from the remainder of his Manchester deal to join New York City. Lampard’s playing time has been limited – he made another cameo appearance on Sunday with City already down, 3-1. If the May window closes, Lampard will not be permitted to join the expansion team until July 8.
– If Lampard arrived today, here is my best XI for NYCFC: Villa at striker, Grabevoy, Lampard and Shelton attacking mids, Diskerud and Jacobson (or Poku) as holders, Chris Wingert, Shay Facey (when healthy), Jason Hernandez and Williams at the back with team MVP Josh Saunders in goal.
– The two other clubs operated by City Football Group each secured a point on the weekend.
Melbourne City, sixth in the table out of 10 in Australia’s A-League, had a scoreless draw. A top-four finish is needed for advancement to the postseason.
Japanese side Yokahama Marinas played to a 1-1 tie, remaining seventh in the 18-team J-League.
– Ali Krieger, among the handful of players that the U.S. women’s national team could ill afford to lose for the World Cup, was involved in a serious collision for the Washington Spirit in their season-opening loss to the Houston Dash. She was carried off on a stretcher after just 26 minutes. Her father, Ken Krieger, emailed that she suffered a mild concussion and a shoulder injury, neither of which are considered serious for the long-term. The next preparation match for the USWNT is May 10 versus Ireland.MORE NEWS: Karlsson Scores In OT To Give Sharks Win Over Islanders
Glenn Crooks is the color commentator for New York City FC on WFAN and the former head soccer coach at Rutgers University. You can follow him on Twitter at @GlennCrooks and glenncrooks.sportsblog.com.