March. That wonderful time of year in football when teams in the European leagues are beginning their title runs, unless, of course, you play in France where the only option is watching Paris St. Germain coast towards the finale; the Champions League and UEFA are shrinking their brackets; and here in the US we are abuzz with the excitement, hope, and anticipation of the upcoming season. Less than a week away from the start of the campaign and in our dreams, without the hindrance of reality, anything is still possible.
New Look City
New York City FC has made some interesting additions to the squad during the off-season, trying to acquire some semblance of a back line, add some depth to the bench with players who will fit into Patrick Vieira’s system of play, and jettisoning dead weight. They acquired some youth and even a bit of a New York identity with the season’s away kit. Five days to go and all looks good. Except it doesn’t. Not really. Even though the Blues won all but one match, pre-season was lack-luster at best. They still have that pesky habit of losing focus late in the match, have yet to find consistent chemistry at the front, and Frank Lampard is nursing yet another calf injury. Vieira’s system, while promising on paper, is yet unproven in the actual play of MLS. A high pressing attack based off of Manchester City’s style of play, the formation leaves them vulnerable to the notorious MLS long ball over the defense. As much as The Man in Seat 9 loves watching the magic of the maestro, this counter-attack is of more than a little concern. But, as stated above, this is still the time of hopes and dreams, of things that might be, not of things that are. Today, anything is possible.
It's Lonely at the Top
During the end to this off-season, the Man in Seat 9 finds himself writing this first article of the new season traveling by train across Austria after visiting Salzburg. Being a lover of the sport at large, and finding himself at the epicenter of Red Bull, this writer did manage to tamp down his enthusiasm for NYCFC and attend a home match of Red Bull Salzburg (RBS). The 2015 Austrian Bundesliga champions (tied at the top of the table this season) put on an offensive show of force against Vienna FC (FAK) defeating the visitors handily 4-1.
According to the local news, this was to be a tough match as Vienna is always dangerous, and as such tickets were in high demand. And here is where the Man in Seat 9 finds a warning from the Ghost of Seasons to Come. In a gorgeous 30,000 seat stadium, with the defending champion home team tied at the top of the table, against a team that is a league rival, the attendance was a disappointing 10,567. The supporters’ section was packed, energetic, and loud, as was the away supporters’ section, but the ends of the stadium were empty. One side of the pitch was filled with refined and quiet season ticket holders, and the other, single match ticket holders who provided a passionate response to play on the field, occasionally throwing any available object when the mood arose.
This writer was struck by two things; the first being how, although City supporters are enjoying the honeymoon of engaged fan support now, that can and will probably change quickly in the upcoming years. It’s something to guard against and also a notice to enjoy our engaged fan base while we can. Secondly, this writer witnessed just how strongly the New York Red Bull organization is tied to the global brand here in Salzburg. Yes, they like to taunt that NYCFC is Man-City light, but from the pitch, to the kits, marketing, experience, and style of play, the Red Bull organization is a system much like that of the Cityzens. They are two sides of the same coin. They have only had more practice dealing with their European overlords.
“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” - Pogo
With those thoughts this writer will leave you with your pre-season hopes and dreams. In them, may NYCFC win all of their matches.
"NYC, NYC, we are NYCFC, from the Bronx down to the Battery, we are NYCFC!"
See you at the March 13th home opener.
-The Man in Seat 9