Matchday 1 is finally here, KC! On Sunday, the poor souls of New York City FC will come to town and face The Blue Hell. In an attempt to learn why the hell anyone would subject themselves to such suffering, I got with Jake Gofman from the SB Nation blog, Hudson River Blue.
We ask them...
Cody Bradley: We liked Saad Abdul-Salaam here in KC, but I am a big fan of the trade for Khiry Shelton. What was the reaction from NYCFC fans to losing Khiry? Also, how do you think SAS will fit into the team?
Jake Gofman: For the most part, we were ready to move on from Khiry Shelton and wish him the best of luck. No one I know in the fan-base has ever harbored any ill will towards Khiry, but I think many fans believe he wasn’t able to reach his potential in New York. Being from this contingent of fans, I find myself more disappointed than anything with Khiry’s time in New York. He is an exceptional physical talent - Strong on the ball, fast and ultra-athletic. Where he falls short has always been on the technical side. His control can be spotty, his hold-up play leaves something to be desired, and his scoring record (6 in 54 games) speaks for itself. That said, we’ve all seen flashes of what he can be and he’s still fairly young. I hope he finds success (not against us, but in general) with KC.
SAS will start the season as our first choice to come on and replace an FB. I’m excited to see what he can do when he’s given the chance to play, given he’s proven himself as both a solid defensive player and a fullback that has some attacking ability. NYC FC has needed depth at FB and bringing in someone like Abdul-Salaam is an excellent move to strengthen the defense and hedge against injuries. I think this was a very smart deal for both teams to make.
CB: With the departures of Andrea Pirlo & Jack Harrison in the off season, what will be the biggest difference between last season’s squad who finished as runners up for the Supporter’s Shield?
JG: I’ve done enough slandering of Pirlo in my time writing for HRB, so I’ll just say that it was time for Pirlo to go and his departure will be net-neutral for the club.
On the other hand, losing Jack Harrison sucks. Jack had a huge sophomore campaign, scoring 10 and assisting 3 times and I believe his numbers would have been even better had he not been fatigued in the second half of the year. He was truly progressing into one of the leagues best young talents, and I expected his career to feature many ASG appearances.
His departure leaves a big hole in our attack, one that Jesus Medina will need to fill. Medina is NYC FC’s first YDP signing, and he’s got a very similar skill set to Jack - Pacey, attack-minded, and tricky on the ball. He will struggle to replace Jack’s output in his first year, but it was smart of the club to go in the direction they did. NYC has done what it can to sign a player that is as close as you can get to a like-for-like swap.
Medina slotting in as our first option RW is biggest difference in the club coming into 2018. I’m also excited to see how Anton Tinnerholm, Swedish National Team RB and Swedish Defender of the Year, performs at LB for the team. He has the potential to be a very good player.
CB: After improving each year since entering the league in 2015, are fans in NYC expecting silverware from Patrick Vieira’s men?
JG: I would say that, among the fans I’m around, the goal for this year is to advance past the Conference Semifinals and not win the MLS Cup or the Supporter’s Shield. It will be very difficult to supplant Toronto as the best team in the Eastern Conference and, as a whole, the East is much improved (looking at you, Atlanta).
Getting another top-2 finish and advancing in the Playoffs to the Eastern Conference Finals seem like realistic goals for the Club, and personally I’d like to see the team make a run at the US Open Cup. Beyond that, I find it very hard to see the team dethroning Toronto. That said, crazier things have happened, so who knows?
Hudson River Blue Predictions
Johnsons; Matarrita, Callen, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Moralez, Ring, Herrera; Wallace, Villa, Medina
*Throws hands up in the air* MLS! March! Who knows? 3-3 Draw.
They ask us...
JG: Given KC’s finish last season and their impressive run to win the US Open Cup, what are your expectations for the team this year? Is there a feeling within the fan-base that the team can build on their finish last year?
CB: Fans of Sporting KC will always be expecting trophies. The club promises silverware and SKC Nation is disappointed when they don’t see something shiny. That being said, it feels like most people are in a hopeful “we’ll see” position. This was one of the most productive off-seasons they’ve ever had, but we’re all waiting to see if that one big problem is solved - actually scoring goals. The final touch across the line has been the issue with Sporting KC for the last one hundred (or so) years. So while they signed a winger.. then a midfielder.. and then another midfielder.. everyone was left waiting for that big DP striker signing the team has been searching for.
I was really impressed with the moves Peter Vermes made and I think this team is significantly better than last season. Khiry Shelton wasn’t exactly what fans were hoping for, but he could end up being a key player for this squad. At the very least the competition between he and Diego Rubio will mean whoever is out there will be fighting for their life. But like I said - we’ll see. There are still plenty of questions. They’ve got several new players and we don’t know how they’ll adjust to MLS. And we still don’t know if there is anyone who can just freaking put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis.
JG: Sporting brought in two new designated players over the winter, Yohan Croizet and Felipe Gutierrez. What do these players bring to the side and how do you think they’ll be utilized?
CB: Felipe Gutierrez appears to be the guy who will replace Benny Feilhaber’s throne as the attacking midfielder. A new maestro is going to greatly change the way this team looks. There will be a bit of a learning curve for him as he gets a feel for his teammates and the minutiae of MLS but there was a lot to like from Felipe in pre-season. He will bring a little more speed to a position that didn’t have a whole of it last season, that is for sure so far.
The jury is still out on Croizet. He had himself a rough pre-season, but started to find himself a bit in the last tune up. Up to this point he has been used on the right wing and starting ahead of Gerso. Where he was finding success in the last match was cutting inside and I think he would probably rather be deployed as an attacking midfielder. Johan is very skilled with the ball at his feet and he likes to take on defenders. He was muscled off the ball quite a bit as the physicality of this league surprised him a little, but once he gets settled in he could be very dangerous.
JG: On to the match Sunday - As it is well documented, NYC FC’s strength is in attacking, and the team subsists, generally, on out-possessing and out-scoring their opposition. KC, meanwhile, is coming off a season where the club was MLS’s best defense, and Tim Melia and Ike Opara were MLS Goalkeeper and Defender of the Year, respectively. Do you see KC’s defensive dominance extending into this season? And, what weakness, if any, can NYC FC’s offense exploit?
CB: I do see this team very solid in defense again this year. A Peter Vermes team will always have a very organized and gritty defensive core. Ilie Sanchez, the holding midfielder, is a huge part that group and everyone from last year is returning. However there does appear to be a change at left-back as Cristian Lobato has been starting over Seth Sinovic. Lobato has been converted from a midfielder/forward and while he should be MUCH better going forward, his defense is still something of a question mark. That is what David Villa and the NYC attack should probably be testing on Sunday. The Graham Zusi experiment worked like a charm, we will see if PV can do it again.
JG: Bonus - What is your hottest Oscars take?
CB: Give them all to Get Out.
The Blue Testament Predictions
Melia, Zusi, Opara, Besler, Lobato, Ilie, Espinoza, Gutierrez, Russell, Rubio, Croizet
Sporting Kansas City 2 - 2 New York City FC