March 8 is looming, and with still plenty of time to fill out the New York City FC roster, fans and pundits alike are contemplating which of the current squad will play their first games as a starter, and who will see their introduction to the first team through squad rotation and some luck.
It’s already clear which positions need strengthened, those looking a little lightweight relative to those around them. Left back and defensive midfield are two of them; positions that should see some friendly competition introduced in order to improve the squad.
It’s unclear at this point however whether SuperDraft pick Connor Brandt will immediately be a Yankee Stadium utility player or will hone his craft at recently announced affiliate team, the Wilmington Hammerheads. This decision could have repercussions throughout the whole lineup.
Below is the best possible NYCFC lineup, consisting only of players currently under contract at the Big Apple club (so no rumored signings, and including Frankie Lamps):
GK: JOSH SAUNDERS/RYAN MEARA: As my fellow NYCFC writer Skylar Darel highlighted in his article on the matter, New York’s safest option in goal (to start with, at least) is Josh Saunders. He says;
“Saunders has to be the favorite for the job. A veteran presence in net, Saunders has more experience than Meara and Fitzgerald combined. He’s won a whopping four titles in the United States, including one this past season with the San Antonio Scorpions of the North American Soccer League (NASL). He’s also won three MLS Cups, one with San Jose in 2003 and two with the LA Galaxy in 2011 and 2012.”
Saunders’ experience obviously puts him a step ahead of Akira Fitzgerald and Ryan Meara, and I tout him to be #1 come March. Meara’s impressive work at NY Red Bulls before his injury may edge him in, but it’s all down to how he’ll feel playing week-in week-out after a long term injury.
RB: JOSH WILLIAMS: Acquired in the 2014 Expansion Draft, Josh Williams left Columbus Crew for greyer pastures in New York, and will play an important role for Jason Kreis’ side. Able to play either right or left back, Williams has, in Kreis’ words, ‘great defensive instinct’, as well as the ability to attack from the full back position. Williams is 26, putting him bang in the middle of a team made up of promising youngsters and seasoned veterans. As a defender, Williams’ ability to fit into the team is essential to NYCFC’s progress moving forward.
CBs: JASON HERNANDEZ and GEORGE JOHN: Although Ecuadorian signing Andres Mendoza could have a shot at the position, it’s MLS experience that sets these two centre backs apart. Hernandez has played 194 MLS games in his 8-year professional career and therefore knows the league well. John was widely accepted as one of the MLS’ best uncapped Americans until injury forced his playing time into irregularity. Should he keep fit, expect him to reach his pre-injury form and really hold down the defensive line with Hernandez. If not, Mendoza is a good replacement by all means.
LB: CHRIS WINGERT: Born and raised in New York, Wingert has been capped at both senior and u-23 level for the USMNT, and is a sure fire starter, given the lack of depth in wing back New York City FC have.
DM: NED GRABAVOY: A true veteran of Major League Soccer, Grabavoy can play most anywhere in midfield, but would be best suited to sweeping up any trouble that got past the midfielders ahead of him. Although a true CDM would be a great call for NYCFC’s 3rd DP, Grabavoy would be more than capable of holding up that position should opportunity knock.
CMs: MIX DISKERUD and ANDREW JACOBSON: Two players who have experience in the Norwegian league, Mix Diskerud and Andrew Jacobson, hold up the wide central midfield berths. Both Diskerud and Jacobson can play out wide or attacking midfield, so the wider midfield positions would be perfect to utilise their skillsets and make room for Lampard when the time comes. Diskerud is best suited when not right behind a striker but able to roam, and thus a diamond would suit his playstyle. Jacobson is particularly versatile. He’s played left midfield, the box-to-box position in the centre, as well as attacking midfield, and did so during his successful recent loan spell at Stabaek.
CAM: FRANK LAMPARD: Although some would argue that at his age he would be better in a deeper position, his time at Manchester City has thus far proved this to be erronous. When substituted on for City, he often plays behind the striker, and we all know how grateful Manchester City fans are for his contribution from that spot.
ST: PAT MULLINS and DAVID VILLA: Villa’s spot in the team is ensured whether Jason Kreis opts for one or two up front, so his inclusion is obvious. Villa will surely be one of the favourites for top scorer this season, showing at Melbourne and the World Cup that he hasn’t lost his magic touch. Pat Mullins is only 22, and already looks mature far beyond his years. 14 goals in 21 games for the New England Revolution is something that should demand some notice.