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How You Doin'? Match II – New York City FC, Meeting the First

Jake Gofman of Hudson River Blue stops by for a chat ahead of the second game of the season in New York against NYC FC

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of Sunday's kickoff in New York City, Waking the Red exchanged questions with Jake Gofman of SB Nation NYC FC sister-site, Hudson River Blue, covering topics ranging from the coaching change, the designated players, and defensive concerns.

Jake's responses can be found below:

Question the First
It's fair to say that the decision to fire Jason Kreis after single season was a bit unfair – he did well, given the circumstances, and knows this league inside and out. City Football Group had invested good time in getting him familiar with their ways, only to handcuff him and then pull the rug. His replacement Patrick Vieira is a legend in the game, and seems to have approached this league with a humility that has perhaps been lacking in other foreign imports. How do the fans feel about the decision to replace Kreis and what are the prospects for Vieira in his first season in MLS?

I think in many ways your observation is accurate. Kreis was placed in an almost impossible situation - He was expected to succeed and reach the playoffs with a brand new team while simultaneously having to build a culture from scratch with an incomplete roster. In other ways, I think many supporters were fine (not happy, though) with moving on from Kreis for two reasons. Firstly, he seemed to struggle a bit tactically with the squad, especially defensively. He was very quick to axe a defender who had a tough match, and our lack of continuity and chemistry at the back was so painfully obvious as we struggled at all times to hold a line at the back. Secondly, I’m not sure Kreis was the right fit for a DP-laden team. This kind of team requires a coach that is willing and able to massage egos and blend talents, while at the same time being charismatic and open with the media.

If you look at the RSL team Kreis had success with, you don’t see the kind of pressure or ego he was immediately face-to-face with in New York. The likes of Findlay, Beckeman, Olave, with Rimando at the back were given time to develop chemistry as they progressed into the primes of their careers. Additionally, there wasn’t the expectation for success or the strong spotlight when he took over in Salt Lake City. In New York, the immediate pressure of gaining success, both from the organization and the supporters, was daunting and probably doesn’t suit his make-up. He’s a brilliant coach, an excellent tactician, but maybe not all the way suited to coach a CFG-lead New York team.

First thing you notice with Vieira, before tactics or anything else, is that he’s a charismatic dude. His personality is great fit for NYC FC and his transparency has helped fans cope with our murky relationship with CFG. At the outset, hiring Vieira looked pretty bad considering he was coming directly from City’s brain trust, and many fans were understandably disgruntled. Vieira moved quickly to make the supporters comfortable, and I think that has cleared the air a bit.

I think the expectations for Vieira are to improve upon the record of Kreis and improve the aesthetic quality of our game. Vieira is already benefiting from having all of our DPs and new signings together in training camp, something we could not say for Kreis, and that should pay dividends (and already has) on attack. As long as we remain in the hunt, fans are going to stay happy. If things so south, his hiring will certainly come under scrutiny.

Question the Second

City have made prominent use of the Designated Player Rule, whether for good or bad, it is clear that this is the path they have chosen. Aside from the obvious star power players like Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, and David Villa bring, it has been a mixed bag in terms of results. Villa was a force last season, scoring by the bucket full, while both Lampard and Pirlo have had lesser impacts. What is the prospect for the 3 DPs this season and are they a help or a hindrance?

For the record, I think the DP path we have chosen is the right fit for this club and its brand. Whether it works from a winning standpoint is yet to be seen. I agree with you that between the three DPs we have had a mixed bag of results. Villa was everything we could have asked for, while, conversely, Pirlo took time to find a role with the club and Lampard really struggled in his first year.

Some of the best news that came out of preseason, as reported by our editor Sam Dunn, was that Pirlo and Lamps would not play in a three man midfield together. This came directly from Vieira and bodes well for how we plan to handle our DPs moving forward. To me, it indicates that we are going to be realistic about our DPs. The club acknowledges that it may have overextended itself with the Pirlo and Lampard signings, but it is not above admitting it.

We expect a lot out of these players, and I think we are mostly eyeing the impact of Pirlo this season. We expect Villa to be the crux of our goalscoring and there’s nothing to suggest he won’t be as prolific or even more so this season. There will be pressure on Pirlo to contribute significantly to our attack  and create opportunities in light of his comically poor defending ability. If he struggles to create for our offensive weapons, you’ll hear grumblings.

As for Lamps, we have low expectations for what he’s capable of now. It’s a shame, but he struggled so much with injuries last season and already this year that we really aren’t expecting much from him. I think the fans are just looking for him to give us quality appearances when he does finally take the field. Between the three players, you really do see the double-edged sword that is signing aging DPs.

Question the Third
NYC did rather well in their expansion season – better than Toronto did in theirs at least – despite all the injury problems and late arriving DPs (it was a shame that they came just as Kreis had found a functional eleven). Their Achilles' Heel was no doubt a struggling back-line, their 58 goals against was tied for league worst (though it is difficult to recall, sitting in Toronto, who else conceded that many, ahem). And on opening weekend in Chicago, the defense again proved frail, has the club adequately addressed those shortcomings in the off-season for a long MLS campaign?

Yeah, let’s be frank, our back-line was trash last year. While we took the 3 points on opening weekend, our defensive effort didn’t inspire confidence.  We made a lot of moves to strengthen our defending and give us depth in the offseason, but we also lost several defenders who either went back to City’s youth squad or were signed elsewhere. I think we’re encouraged by the new signings, especially Costa Rican LB Ronald Matarrita, but they struggled against Chicago’s speed last weekend (who doesn’t though?). Moreover, we were playing a somewhat makeshift back-line with CB Ethan White starting at RB because Iraola and RJ Allen were out nursing injuries.

I think one game probably isn’t a good barometer for how our defense will play this year, especially with a second-choice CB playing RB. That being said, I think there were reasons to be concerned, especially with the Hernandez-Brillant partnership. Brillant looked out of form last weekend and contributed directly to one of the Fire’s goals. He was beat often and his lack of pace is a concern for us moving forward, especially for an experienced international we brought in to provide stability to the back-line.

I think it’s safe to say that NYC FC won’t be a defensive stalwart this season in MLS, and that we’ll have to score plenty of goals if we hope to earn a Postseason berth. It will make for fun games, but isn’t quite the way we wanted this season to go. Look for Vieira to be quick tactically to making changes. I wouldn’t be surprised if went to a three man back-line, a formation we toyed with in preseason, as soon as this Sunday.

Barbed Question
There were some combative matches between NYC and Toronto FC last season, perhaps enough to spur the development of a mini-rivalry of sorts, so how will it feel to be the second New York-based side to lose at home to TFC this season?

It would be cool for Toronto FC to get their first win against us after going 0-2-1 against us last year, wouldn’t it? In all seriousness our games were incredibly entertaining last year (especially the 4-4 draw in New York) and the intensity that both teams brought to the matches was great for fans. If Sunday’s game is anything like the games last year, I think we’re in for a treat. 

Honestly, I think we go with a three man back-line in this match. We had more success with it in Preseason and dropping to a five shell in the back will help us cope with Toronto’s attack. Here’s what my colleagues at Hudson River Blue project:

Saunders; Bravo - Brillant – Iraola; Matarrita - Diskerud - Pirlo – McNamara; Taylor - Villa - Shelton

I can’t even pretend like I’m not worried about the tiny bundle of goals that is Sebastian Giovinco. He’s so skilled on the ball, and his combination play is world-class. Bradley and Will Johnson hold down the midfield, so gaining the advantage there will be crucial and should inform as to how the game unfolds. I think you’re gonna see a better organized NYC FC this weekend and I expect us to control most of the play when we’re at home. I say 2-1 NYC, with goals coming from Giovinco on your side and Shelton and Villa for NYC FC. I’m also a massive homer, so who cares what I think?

And WTR's responses to Jake's questions can be found here.

Massive thanks to Jake for providing us some insight into this weekend's opponent. He can be found on Twitter and be sure to swing by Hudson River Blue for all the latest ahead of Sunday's match.