Younger, Stronger NYCFC Ready To Take MLS By Storm

After reaching the playoffs in his first season as a top flight coach, how far can Patrick Vieira take the new-look Cityzens this time around?

After wrapping up his second preseason as manager of New York City FC, Patrick Vieira is looking ahead to today’s match against Orlando City. There is optimism in the air for the Frenchman. After all, his first season in the Big Apple was considered a success. He guided the second-year franchise to a second place finish in the Eastern Conference and the conference semifinals of the playoffs – albeit the embarrassing aggregate loss at the hands of Toronto (0-7).

He also had a lot of time to sit down with team’s technical director Claudio Reyna and discuss how they want to build up the squad for this season. The former Arsenal captain was given a complete control in the offseason to bring in players that can fit into his system, and he did exactly just that.

When talking to MLS, Vieira didn’t hide his thoughts. He explained, “Last year was a good season, but it wasn’t good enough for us as a club, and what we wanted to achieve.” The 40-year-old continued, “And I believe that this year the team is stronger than it was last year – I think the roster is much better than it was last year.”

It’s fair to say that he does have a solid point. Frank Lampard, the 38-year-old midfielder who contributed with 12 goals in 19 games, has left the club. Although the Englishman’s goals will be missed to an extent, he is replaced with a much younger and exciting player in Maxi Moralez.

The Argentine is coming over from Leon in Liga MX, after spending successful five seasons in Serie A’s Atalanta. 20 goals and 25 assists in 147 appearances during his time there has many fans excited for his arrival, especially Italian-Americans who have witnessed some of his magical play.

Other interesting newcomers include USMNT keeper Sean Johnson, Peruvian international center back Alexander Callens, Finnish international midfielder Alexander Ring, Costa Rican international winger Rodney Wallace, Panamanian international midfielder Miguel Camargo, Venezuelan youngster Yangel Herrera, and the 2016 USL MVP and Golden Boot winner Sean Okoli.

These are more than impressive signings for the club. Although the team was scoring goals for fun up front last season, the defense was leaking goals almost every game. They conceded 57 goals, the worst among the teams who made the playoffs and fourth worst in the league.

A young and athletic center back in Callens will help fix the issue, while Ring and Herrera are candidates to provide a cover to the back four in midfield. The 27-year old Johnson, who is entering his prime, looks like an upgrade to Josh Saunders for the job between the sticks.

“I think we have better players overall,” Vieira said when speaking about the new players. “I think last year we didn’t have so many choices, regarding the players that we had. I think this year there will be more competitiveness between the players and that will help to get the best of every single one of them.’’

All the new signings are 30 or younger, which is so important to a side that’s often been criticized for depending too much on the older players. But despite the injection of youth, the most important players will remain David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. The former won the league MVP award last season with 22 goals, while the latter has adapted well compared to his first few months in the league.

The coach didn’t hide his admiration for Villa when speaking about him. “For me, he’s getting younger,” Vieira said. “When I see him like I see him this morning in training, he still has the same passion. David is going to be a massive success for us for the next few years because of the quality, but I will say just because of the love and the passion he’s got for the game.”

The Frenchman also mentioned “age is just a number” for the 38-year-old Pirlo. “Regarding Andrea, you know what, I’m not worried at all,” he said.

There is also a hidden wildcard for Vieira under the table, James Sands. The holding midfielder may only be 16 years of age but is already showing flashes of brilliance on the pitch. Sands has been so impressive that he even received an elusive invitation to train with the first team in the preseason camp, and the academy kid is very likely to become the club’s first homegrown player to receive a professional contract.

Vieira showered him with compliments after the camp broke off. “We are really pleased to have a young, talented player in our football club. We need to think carefully about how can we help him develop, and what is the best next step for him. That is a discussion that we are having every single day,” he said of Sands.

“We know that he will be really busy next year with the Under-17 World Cup and then we are going to try to make the right decision to help him develop himself. He is somebody that I like a lot. We’re gonna have a good plan for him,” the manager added.

The new look NYCFC, who have chopped down their average age from 27.66 to 25.77, are ready and excited for the new season. They travel down south to help open up the new 25,500-seat stadium for Orlando on March 5th, before returning to Yankee Stadium for a home opener showdown with DC United on March 12th.

 It will be interesting to see what will be the measuring stick of a successful season for Reyna and Vieira. Nonetheless, the French manager has already gathered interest back home in Europe for his tactical brilliance and he might just land a bigger job once he’s finished turning the Cityzens into a much more lethal and dangerous side.

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