After succumbing to a disappointing draw to a Colorado Rapids team NYCFC was expected to handle with ease, New York returns back to Yankee Stadium, the site of their last victory, to face off against Sporting Kansas City.
One of the big talking points of the game is the absences.
Striker Adam Nemec and Wingers Khiry Shelton and Sebastian Velasquez won’t be available this for the game. Nemec is on international duty with the Slovakian national team, Shelton is with the United States U-23 squad, and Velasquez is injured. Nemec has started both games at striker, and while he hasn’t scored, he’s certainly been active. Shelton has been incredible, coming off the bench and energizing NYCFC in their opening two matches.
Velasquez has started the last two games for the club at right wing. All three have had important impacts on the squad, but the question is: Who will fill the void?
The leading candidate to fill Adam Nemec, who tallied for Slovakia this week, is Patrick Mullins. The former member of the New England Revolution is one of only three NYCFC players to score this season, along with David Villa and Mix Diskerud. Mullins, with his first touch of the season, slapped a one-timer past New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth to give New York a 2-0 lead. Mullins showed great pace and a poachers instinct with that goal, and could be key for Kreis’ team. Expect the former Maryland Terrapin to lead the line against Kansas City.
Colombian winger Javier Calle, who is on loan from Medellin, was a popular pick to start at right midfield when the season began. While he hasn’t featured as much as he’d like, Calle is still a pacey winger who can make plays from the outside. Velasquez brings that same speed and intensity, which is why Calle would make a nice compliment for his injured teammate. Even if Calle doesnt start, expect him to at least come on as a substitute.
The favorite to start at right midfield is Mehdi Ballouchy, who started NYCFC’s inaugural game against Orlando City, before being replaced by Shelton. Despite an underwhelming performance, Ballouchy has great composure and experience, at age 31. He also has a good bond with head coach Jason Kreis, following a spell at Real Salt Lake from 2006-2007.
The defense will be a big focus point. New York comes into the fixture having not conceded in a league high 180 minutes (2-0 vs. New England Revolution, 0-0 vs. Rapids), but have looked shaky at times, sitting back and letting the opposition take their time to set up strong offensive plays. New York will be without Josh Williams due to injury and Shay Facey due to suspension, which might force the hand of Kreis and put Connor Brandt into the starting lineup.
With Kansas City having offensive options such as Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer, the defense will have to be at the top of their game if New York wants any chance of coming away with a win.
Much of the reason New York has been able to go undefeated thus far has been due to the goalkeeping skills of Josh Saunders. Saunders, 34, has kept two clean sheets, while only allowing one goal over the course of three games. Due to some of the switches occurring in the team, Saunders will need to put in another strong performance if continuity is to be established with Kreis’ men.
Expect Saunders to be in goal after his recent run of good form. He’s made key saves in the first three game of the season for NYCFC. The defense will likely have Jeb Brovsky at left back, and Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert in the middle. The only wildcard is right back, due to Josh Williams’ injury and Shay Facey’s suspension. Connor Brandt is my pick to start at right back. Ned Grabavoy, Andrew Jacobson, Mix Diskerud, and Mehdi Ballouchy will start at midfield, with David Villa and Patrick Mullins up front.
NYCFC 1, Sporting Kansas City 0
NYCFC will rebound after a less than impressive performance against Colorado. Villa will continue his goalscoring streak at Yankee Stadium and NYCFC will continue to be undefeated. One interesting thing to note, Frank Lampard will be in attendance at Yankee Stadium as rumors continue to swirl that he will terminate his loan at Manchester City early due to a lack of playing time and join NYCFC early.
*Ankit Mehra contributed to writing.