Josh Saunders

Orlando City 2017 Season Preview by ExiledMLS

After failing to make the playoffs in their inaugural season, Orlando City began 2016 with Head Coach Adrian Heath already on the hot seat. An uninspiring 4-4-8 start to the season resulted in Heath’s dismissal on July 6 following a 4-0 shellacking at FC Dallas. Two weeks later, Orlando City hired former Real Salt Lake and NYCFC Head Coach Jason Kreis. While this gave some fans optimism that Orlando City could make a late-season push for the playoffs, it was not meant to be. The Lions finished the season 8th place in the East with 41 points, and were edged out of playoff contention by the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution (each sitting on 42 points). 

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NYCFC in 2016: Viera's New Style by Alex Brodsky

Following an underwhelming inaugural season under Jason Kreis, New York City FC’s ownership sought a dramatic change. They enlisted the help of Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira to oversee their team’s sophomore campaign. Opting for a foreign manager raised more than a few eyebrows among MLS media. The former French National Team captain has proved doubters wrong but still 2016 has been anything but smooth for NYCFC.

After New York City FC’s first game against the Chicago Fire, it appeared as though history may repeat itself. They edged out with a 4-3 victory but defensively they looked as shaky as in 2015. Since that game, however, Vieira has taken great strides. By implementing a unique style of build-up play Vieira has managed to maintain NYCFC’s strong attack while addressing their porous defense. New York City’s 1.56 xG against/game sits at 5th worst in the league but they’ve improved from 2015 by .26, the highest mark over that time. 

More after the jump.

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Do Keepers in MLS Have a Weaker Side? by Alex Rathke

In Week Two of the 2016 MLS season, I watched the Houston Dynamo beat FC Dallas 5-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium. After the match I saw the Shot on Target (SoT) statistics and noticed Houston had taken three shots on goal towards the lower right-hand side against Dallas’s keeper Jesse Gonzalez. Was Gonzalez weaker on his left side? Since I was a young boy playing soccer, I've heard numerous coaches talk about a goalkeepers’ “weaker side”. Is there something the coaches know about goalkeeper weaknesses that we analysts don’t? 

More after the jump.

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Only one MLS expansion team (Seattle in 2009) since the turn of the millennium has made the playoffs in their first season. Given the tumult that surrounded NYCFC’s existence prior to ever kicking a ball, it always seemed unlikely they would be the second. But expectations for Jason Kreis’ side were high, he didn't live up to them, and so he was dismissed. There have been numerous and significant changes going into the 2016 season, and there can be no question that a significant improvement is expected for the upcoming season. How realistic those expectations are is yet to be seen.

2015 in review

In my 2015 preview for NYCFC I began with a series of questions. The answers to those questions at the end of the season were supposed to determine whether the season was a success or not. As I said at the time, “success in 2015 is unlikely to be measured in team performance, but rather a series of more existential factors.” Let’s see if the answers to those questions give us insight into what happened to the club last season.

1. “Has the city of New York accepted the team?”

This seems to be a fairly resounding “yes.” The average attendance of 29,016 people per game was good for 3rd in the league, despite playing in a baseball stadium that is less than ideal for the beautiful game. Advantage NYCFC.

2. “Has the organization created a more stable front office?”

Conversely, this seems to be a fairly resounding “no.” Kreis went to Manchester to learn from from his superiors, was poised to bring his MLS Cup winning experience to the job, and had over a year to prepare his team and roster. Then he was given unrealistic expectations and was handed a team consisting mostly of cast-offs, misfits, geriatrics, and David Villa. While he certainly wasn’t blameless, he also was far from the only reason why his team didn’t work.

A big part of that is Kreis apparently didn’t have as much control as we (and maybe he) thought he did. We won’t re-hash the Lampard fiasco here, but it became apparent early that he was but the marionette puppet and the Abu Dhabian overlords were actually pulling the strings at NYCFC.* (To add insult to injury, Kreis is now forced to stare longingly on as an assistant to a coach he is far better than.)

More questions after the jump.

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2015 ASA Preview: NYCFC by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

For a team that has yet to play a professional game, NYCFC sure has seen - and cultivated - a lot of drama. From stadium deals falling through to the Frank Lampard debacle, to the lackluster jersey reception, to the purported rules surrounding permitted ways to support the team, it has been a rocky entrance into MLS. But the assembled on-field product looks to be a decent one. David Villa and Lampard are the big names, but an interesting combination of newcomers and seasoned MLS veterans have filled out the squad. If any MLS coach can get a brand-new team to work it is Jason Kreis, but it is already clear that the distractions will be many.

Only two teams (Chicago in 1998 and Seattle in 2009) have ever made playoffs in their expansion year, but NYCFC are looking to be the third. With the Yankees and Manchester City backing them they’re clearly not afraid to spend money, and expectations are very high. Still, success in 2015 is unlikely to be measured in team performance, but rather a series of more existential factors. Has the city of New York accepted the team? Has the organization created a more stable front office? Is there a legitimate plan to build a soccer specific stadium they can call home? Has Frank Lampard returned from England? With that said, let’s take a look at what type of team has actually been assembled.


Kreis is the great American hope for coaching. With Bob Bradley’s team Stabaek finishing mid-table in Norway and favored by many to be relegated in 2015, Kreis is now the American coach with the biggest overseas audience. At only 42, he’s also the favorite to follow in Jurgen Klinsmann’s shoes and coach the USMNT if all goes right. So what type of team has Kreis built to implement his patented 4-4-2 diamond? It’s a squad made up of a lot of familiar faces; Kreis either played or coached six of the players on his roster before bringing them to NYCFC. He also brought in players from abroad; another six players come from a league outside of North America, ranging from Uruguay and Colombia to Norway and Germany. There is a lot of pressure on Kreis, and his job may depend on his ability to get his team to sync.


MLS Veteran and MLS Cup winner Josh Saunders is the presumed starter in goal, with former Red Bulls starter Ryan Meara on loan as the backup. Saunders has only played four games in MLS since winning the Cup in 2013 with the Galaxy, and has dealt with personal issues, but our xG models for 2011-13 show he allowed fewer goals than the average goalkeeper would have expected in each of the three seasons (though small sample size caveats apply), suggesting he’s a better than average netminder. Meara performed as expected in his starting season in 2012, which implies there wouldn't be much of a letdown if Saunders can’t cut it.

In front of Saunders will be Kreis-favorite Chris Wingert at leftback, with Ecuadorian Andres Mendoza and former Earthquake Jason Hernandez in the middle, and former Crew player Josh Williams on the right. With an average age of 29, this is an experienced and hardened backline. It has lots of MLS experience, and won’t come with flash. These are solid, if unspectacular, players that won’t surprise anyone. When building a new team from nothing, consistency is important. This looks to be a good place to start.


USMNT member Mikkel Diskerud (or simply “Mix”, as his jersey will say) will do the playmaking until Lampard arrives from England. His style seems to fit perfectly into the role Javier Morales played for Kreis in Salt Lake, though playing in Norway won’t have prepared him as well as Argentina did for Morales. For the midfield diamond to work with Mix at it’s apex, he will have to quickly adjust to the speed and physicality of MLS. If he is slow to adapt, things will be tough for NYC in the early-going.

Former FC Dallas man Andrew Jacobsen will form the bottom corner of the diamond. Fresh off a successful loan to the aforementioned Stabaek, Jacobson will bring strength in the air and hard tackles to protect space behind Mix. To his left will be another RSL vet and the only player with hair rivaling Diskerud, Ned Grabavoy. He’s the ultimate role-player. He won’t grab headlines or pull cheeky moves, but he’s usually in the right place at the right time. At 31 he’s beginning to slow down, but should be able to quietly hold his own against most opponents.

The right-mid starting spot looks to be a competition between former Atlanta Silverback Kwadwo Poku and MLS journeyman Mehdi Ballouchy. On the surface they couldn't be more different. Ballouchy is a known quantity. He will bring a bit of flash and finesse to the wing, but is also prone to boneheaded mistakes and sometimes forgets to play defense. He also hasn't played more than 1000 minutes since 2011, so may require some time to find his form. Conversely, Poku is big and fast, two traits that are generally signs of future success in MLS. He has shown signs of inexperience in preseason, but seems to have a high soccer IQ. He may not start at the beginning of the season, but my money is on Poku starting by the end of it.


Either Slovakian international Adam Nemec or former USMNT U20 Tony Taylor are the favorites to start in the number nine position. Taylor had moderate success in Cypress and Portugal after going to college at South Florida, but only made only appearance last season for New England. Nemec was most recently in the German second division, where he scored 14 goals in 60 appearances since 2012.

Another way of saying it is that David Villa is all on his own up top. Possibly now the most talented player in MLS, Villa’s career speaks for itself. Since joining Valencia in 2005, he has averaged a goal every other game against some of the best competition in the world. Still, success usually doesn't come quickly for foreign starts coming to MLS. Even the likes of Henry, Beckham, and Dempsey have struggled to begin with. If Diskerud can’t get him the ball, then it will be a painfully long wait until Lampard arrives, and there is no promising that he’ll adjust quickly either.


NYCFC has built arguably the most imbalanced team in MLS history. The top starting players are arguably the best in MLS, and the bottom starting players are arguably the very worst. Even if he adapts quickly, it will be odd for a player like Villa to play next to the likes of cast-offs Ballouchy and Taylor. He’ll have to find his own space, and is likely to be double-teamed constantly. With no numbers or data to look at it is a fool’s errand to predict how this season will go, but a bottom three or top three finish seem equally likely. The truth is probably somewhere in-between. If Villa and Diskerud are slow to acclimate to MLS, it will be a very long season. If they find their niche quickly, and Lampard arrives to bring experience and goalscoring from the midfield, this team can make a run in the playoffs. I think a finish between seventh and fifth in the Eastern Conference is most likely