By Nick Fiorino (@stretch_fio)
On Friday, May 25th our boys in blue will look to build upon their 4-0 win against the Colorado Rapids when they travel to BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas to face the Houston Dynamo. NYCFC will attempt to place rumors of Head Coach Patrick Vieira’s departure aside and take back the 1st place position in the Eastern Conference.
Away from home, I expect NYCFC to line up in their usual 4-3-3 and depart from last week’s 3-5-2. Maxime Chanot is healthy and should be ready to lead the backline. Probably surprising to some, I expect Vieira to give Ben Sweat a start at left back and supplant MLS Team of the Week starter Ronald Matarrita. Left back will be an incredibly important position for NYC this week, with the starter being tasked with defending Alberth Elis, who will be discussed later in Houston’s Player Spotlight. Sweat will give City a soundness at the back that Matarrita’s attacking yet sometimes reckless style does not provide, especially on the road.
I believe Jesus Medina will reclaim his starting position on the right, with red-hot newcomer Ismael Tajouri-Shradi starting opposite on the left in NYC’s most dynamic attack of the season. The usual midfield of Maxi Moralez, Yangel Herrera, and Alex Ring should stay intact, although Herrera’s recent form has led to some fans asking serious questions of the hard-nosed 20 year-old defensive midfielder. Do not be surprised to see Ofori grab a spot start in the midfield, or for Vieira to opt to keep forward Jo Inge Berget in the attack, after arguably his best start of the season last week.
Unbeaten in their last three, the Houston Dynamo will attempt to continue their winning ways after a 3-2 victory away from home last week against the Chicago Fire.
Responding well to the 4-0 away loss to the Red Bulls, NYCFC are unbeaten in their last two. Playing the toughest schedule in the league so far, New York look to get back to their usual winning ways.
On September 23rd of last year, NYCFC and Houston drew 1-1 in their only meeting of the season. Fans will remember this game for a few reasons, first and foremost being that it was played at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut after a scheduling conflict at Yankee Stadium.
Maxi Moralez opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a rare header, supplied from a Jack Harrison cross. Houston responded in the sixteenth minute scoring the only other goal of the contest on a quickly taken free kick, catching New York City sleeping at the back. Interestingly, Allen Chapman was the Head Referee for the contest last September, and will officiate Friday as well.
New York City are unbeaten in three games against the Dynamo.
All-time Series: 1-0-2
New York City FC currently sit second in the loaded Eastern Conference, trailing Atlanta United by a lone point. Houston lies in sixth place in the West, but look to make back ground with only ten games played so far this season.
The 20 year old Venezuelan international has had a solid career with the Boys in Blue, becoming a staple on the weekly team sheet. His recent form, however, has disappointed. He was thoroughly outmatched in the Hudson River Derby by Tyler Adams, and did not respond well either against LAFC, leading to a rather open midfield throughout the entire match. It is certainly not yet time to move on, but with Ebenezer Ofori as a second option, Herrera may begin to see less playing time unless he produces a good showing on the pitch. Looking at advanced statistics, Herrera has the third most shots of any player in MLS without scoring with 21. On these twenty-one shots, Herrera has a lowly 1.42 expected goals (xG).
Facing a Western Conference opponent, City fans may not be familiar with Houston’s danger man, but he is a force to be reckoned with. 22 year-old Alberth Elis scored two goals against the Chicago Fire last week, and is having an amazing season thus far. His performance earned him MLS Team of the Week honors as a forward, alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips and David Villa. The Honduran International leads MLS in shots on goal with 22, and is fourth in total shots with 42. The pacey winger is fourth in the league in expected goals, in the company of Josef Martinez, Gyasi Zardes, and Miguel Almiron. His expected goals plus assists ratio is only second in the league behind Almiron, making Elis a serious force to be reckoned with. Elis will line up on the right, creating an interesting matchup for whoever City selects to start at left back.
New York City FC:
Goals: David Villa (7), Maxi Moralez (5), Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (5)
Assists: Jesus Medina (5), Maxi Moralez (4), David Villa and Yangel Herrera (3)
Road Goals: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (3)
Goals: Alberth Elis (6), Mauro Manotas (5), Romell Quioto (3)
Assists: Alberth Elis (5), Romell Quioto and Tomas Martinez (4), Boniek Garcia (3)
Home Goals: Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, and Mauro Manotas (2)
NYCFC vs Houston Dynamo will be broadcast at 8:55 ET, available on UniMás and the Univision NOW app. The Third Rail will also be hosting a 5th Anniversary watch party at St. Pat's Bar and Grill, RSVP here.
Follow Nick Fiorino on Twitter at @stretch_fio and The Third Rail at @ThirdRailSC