It's been a while since we did a 3 Questions piece, but the first time ever playing New York City FC, it was time to bring it out of stasis. This week we talk to Sam Dunn of Hudson River Blue (HRB). You can view my responses to their questions over on their site.
OaM: What's the deal with David Villa? Is he playing possum and saving his best for our whichever-four-are-fit back line?
HRB: El Guaje was a normal participant in training this week, and there is every expectation that he's ready to return to the starting XI after coming off the bench last Sunday against Seattle. He's dealt with two different nagging injuries this season -- a hamstring and an adductor -- but even 75% of David Villa possesses a first touch and general level of class that no amount of Adam Nemecs and Patrick Mullinses can match. Not yet, at least.
Jason Kreis presumably played it safe with Villa last week with an eye toward giving him as much of the full ninety as his body will allow this weekend at Red Bull Arena. We've still yet to see something resembling an ideal strike pairing for the Spanish star man, but I expect him to shade to the left in a front-three setup as we've seen him do recently, likely with Mullins in the middle and Khiry Shelton to the right. The days of the 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 with Villa to the left of Nemec up top appear, quite mercifully, to be over.
OaM: Do you think Sacha Kljestan shaved his mustache because he accepts he's lost the hair battle to Mix Diskerud and it's time to let his soccer do the talking?
HRB: Sacha wants to stand out. In normal circumstances, his 'stache made him unique. Up against the hair onslaught -- the veritable cosmetological Carcosa -- that is New York City FC, unfortunately, he would be but a face in the crowd.
I mean, pick your poison: Mix's flowing waves, Ned Grabavoy's stringy mop, Jeb Brovsky's waxed Doc Holliday look, Nemec's bro-hawk, Tommy McNa-Mullet... this is an all-star cast of hairdos. They're like a follicular Avengers.
Alternatively, Kljestan may just have shaved in order to decrease his overall air resistance and run faster, owing to his nightmares about Jermaine Jones chasing him through a series of dense thickets.
OaM: Cut through all the hype and bombast for a moment: what's NYC FC doing well as a club right now, and where do you think it should be doing better?
HRB: The mood among the fans is pretty healthy-- 16,000+ season ticket holders, new supporter groups and social clubs sprouting up all over, the second-most Instagram followers in MLS behind only the Galaxy, and a general sense of stick-to-it-iveness over the course of this seven-game winless skid, reactionary Yankee Stadium security policies notwithstanding (it doesn't take much to get thrown out of the supporters' sections).
As for the club itself, the biggest problems on the field will be remedied through repetition. Right now, too many NYC players simply can't anticipate their teammates' movements off the ball, which, along with just about every midfielder playing outside of their natural position, has enabled the bulk of the team's troubles putting it all together in the final third. That's the hand an expansion team is dealt, and it won't be that way forever.
To Jason Kreis's credit, there has been a palpable effort to press forward earlier in games, and the team has shrugged off its previous run of slow starts as a result. Last weekend against the Sounders, NYCFC dictated the pace of the first half and looked the better side based on run-of-play during that time. Unfortunately, that pressing blew up in their face, as Obafemi Martins tore through the high defensive line to bag the opening goal for the visitors.
The feeling within the organization and amongst the players based on the increased efforts to get forward, however, is that goals are coming: hell, if Mehdi Ballouchy can bag TWO golazos (he's tied with Villa as leading goalscorer), things can't be that bad in the Five Boroughs. Either that, or it's a sign of the imminent apocalypse.
There are still some glaring problems with this team: ineffectiveness in stretching the width of the field (Khiry Shelton is a rookie and shouldn't be conducting an entire wing by himself), a lack of sturdiness at the base of the midfield, and a spate of injuries that have left few options along the back four. These are all simply expansion team problems, and they won't all disappear immediately upon the arrival of Frank Lampard and Mystery Third DP in July, but some of these stumbling blocks will crumble over the course of the year.
Until that happens, though, the fans will have to withstand some crud.