Saturday, March 2nd
On Saturday, March 2nd, NYCFC open their 2019 campaign for MLS Cup in Orlando. Two very different teams from last season, City will look to start the season strong against their expansion “rivals”
The backline will likely look identical to last season at full health, with Sean Johnson surely between the posts. Ronald Matarrita may crack the eleven in place of Ben Sweat, but I expect Sweat to build off his surprising 2018 with an even stronger 2019. City are likely to return to their trusted centre back pairing of Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens, but Sebastien Ibeagha always has a chance to start ahead of either. Anton Tinnerholm, who arguably looked his best under Domè, has the right back position locked down again this season.
Leading the team with 24 goal contributions in his second full season in the big apple, Maxi Moralez will be leaned on in 2019. A key to NYCFC’s distribution and identity in building from the back, arguably no player is as important to the club for this season. I predict new captain Alex Ring to begin the season in the lone defensive mid role, but I would not be surprised to see a double pivot employed by Domè, giving Ring license to get forward and do more things like this.
City’s midfield must deal with a tremendous loss in Yangel Herrera, and addressed the problem by adding Keaton Parks on loan from Benfica. Likely spending most of his time between Moralez and Ring, Parks’ passing will be essential to City’s desire for possession of the ball. More of a box-to-box midfielder, he doesn’t seem to have the same defensive talent that hard-nosed Herrera prided himself in, but his passing and movement in the final third should be a joy to watch this season.
The loss of David Villa has led to great uncertainty this offseason, and while City have still yet to sign a true Centre Forward, Alexandru Mitriță will certainly help in the goal scoring department. I predict Mitriță will play through the left to open the season, with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi opposite him on the right. ITS wrote his name on the goal sheet eleven times last season, and deserves the run out on Opening Day. Lastly, I predict that Valentin ‘Taty’ Castellanos will start through the middle, although the attack will almost certainly remain dynamic throughout the match, with the front three interchanging positions constantly. Do not be surprised, however, to see Jesus Medina or Jonathan Lewis get the start up front.
*The Outfield’s Formation Breakdown is a fantastic read for more in depth discussion on City’s potential shape not only on Saturday, but for the rest of the long season as well.
Also check out the NYCFC Season Preview on American Soccer Analysis to get up to speed before Saturday’s season opener.
NYCFC Player Spotlight: Alexandru Mitriță
Major League Soccer’s third most expensive signing in its history, City’s new Designated Player, Romanian International, a young Giovinco, whatever you want to call him, Alexandru Mitriță has huge shoes to fill. The Romanian is a lethal forward with 12 Goals and 4 Assists in 16 matches this season, who is expected to take set pieces with the departure of David Villa. With NYCFC’s attack likely to be incredibly fluid all season with a multitude of options at each position, Mitriță is expected to play through the middle, with some time also being spent on the left. Unlike Maxi Moralez, he tends to stay in the final third of the pitch. Mitriță should find his name on the score sheet early and often.
Orlando City Player Spotlight: Nani
The former Manchester United standout Nani was expected to finish his career at Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, back where he started. Many were shocked, however, when he made his move to Orlando City while in the midst of a great season in Liga NOS, with seven goals and four assists in eighteen league matches. All eyes will be on Nani in his first match, where he will likely line up on the left and face Anton Tinnerholm head on.
NYCFC 2 / Orlando City 1
Watch NYCFC @ Orlando City SC at 2:30 ET on Univision Deportes
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