New York City FC are two games into their inaugural season, and for the most part, the first team is settled.
Head coach Jason Kreis has a solidified starting keeper in Josh Saunders. His center back pairing is set, with Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert. Mix Diskerud and Andrew Jacobson have settled nicely in the midfield together, and Ned Grabavoy has been solid on the wing.
While second striker and right back remain question marks, no position has a bigger debate than right midfield, where a three-horse race has emerged for the starting position.
Kreis used 10/11 of the same starters from the Orlando City game for the New England game. The only change? You guessed it, right midfield.
Mehdi Ballouchy got the start in the first match, and after a complacent and unconvincing shift, gave way to rookie Khiry Shelton.
In the second match, it was Sebastian Velasquez who got the start. After a decent shift, he gave way to Khiry Shelton.
Out of those three players – Ballouchy, Velasquez, and Shelton – it’s been the latter who has impressed most. And by a large margin.
The second overall pick in this years MLS Draft, Khiry Shelton has been as impactful as almost every NYCFC player. His pace gives opposing defenses nightmares, and his relentless motor makes him a constant threat on goal.
Shelton came on in the first match and instantly reinvigorated his team, creating a chance for David Villa before nearly scoring one himself. His standout effort garnered him a lot of positive press, and he became a favorite to start NYCFC’s home opener.
But he didn’t.
Velasquez did, and failed to make a major impact. Off he went, and on came Shelton. Almost immediately, he changed the game, darting forward from the right and drawing a foul that led to a red card for the Revolution. NYCFC would go on to take advantage of New England being a man down, as Patrick Mullins tapped in a David Villa cross to put the game away.
Shelton has instantly become a fan favorite, and many pundits have been suggesting that he start this weekends game at Colorado. This begs the question? Should Shelton start, or should be continue to be a substitute?
While you may read this and think, “of course he should start! The best players are supposed to start!”, you should consider a few things.
Firstly, Shelton’s pace is perfect for late game situations. Each time he’s come on the pitch, he brings his young and fresh legs against a worn out defense. Typically, defensive players go the full 90 minutes – five of Kreis’s first six substitutes this season have been for attackers and midfielders.
Shelton coming on at the end of games could continue to bear similar results: the youngster rips through tired defenses and creates chances for his teammates. Shelton’s “super sub” role is similar to that of a sixrh man in the NBA – a burst of energy off the pine. By coming on for the last 25-30 minutes, Shelton’s speed gives him the best chance to influence a game.
On the other hand, Shelton is 21 years old. He still has tremendous stamina, and it’s likely that he has the physical endurance to last 90 minutes and still be effective. While he’ll almost certainly lose some of his spring later on in matches, he has the durability to sustain an entire match. So if he does, why not start your best attacking option?
Shelton has been more impressive, entertaining, and effective than Ballouchy and Velasquez combined, and it might raise some eyebrows if Kreis continues to leave his young star for later.
While this is a fair argument, I still lean towards Shelton the super sub. His entrance into the first two games of the season swung the outcome significantly – NYCFC scored inside the first 15 minutes of Shelton’s arrival against Orlando, and inside 20 minutes of his arrival against New England.
His pace will be able to be fully unleashed if he’s a substitute, which is why, against popular belief, I believe Khiry Shelton should come off the bench at right midfield.