New York City FC Kicks Off Inaugural Season

New York City FC (NYCFC), one of Major League Soccer’s newest expansion teams, began their inaugural season in early March. The club was announced in 2013 and has backing from both Manchester City and the New York Yankees, who fronted the $100 million MLS franchise expansion fee. The team will play at Yankee Stadium until a “soccer-specific” stadium is built in one of the city’s five boroughs. Any potential stadium would not be completed until 2018 at the earliest. The brains behind the club can be attributed to Claudio Reyna, long time U.S. men’s national team captain, who is director of football operations. That means he has control over the ins and outs of who the team signs and their general vision.

Given the club’s significant financial backing from two of the richest and most profitable teams in the world, it was expected that NYCFC would look to put together a team of expensive, older European players looking to follow in the footsteps of David Beckham and be a part of the growth of MLS. Reyna’s first order of business, though, was to find a coach. He landed on MLS’s young coaching star, Jason Kreis, who led Real Salt Lake, his own former club, to a MLS cup in 2009. At 36 years old, he was the youngest coach to ever lead a team to an MLS cup.

After landing the most promising young coach in the league, Reyna set his sights on players, specifically the three that would occupy the three all-important designated player slots. The designated player rule allows all MLS teams to sign expensive players without going over the league mandated salary cap. In June 2014 the club announced they would be signing Spanish international David Villa as their first designated player. In July, English superstar and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard was announced as the second designated player.

While the Villa addition has been nothing but positive for NYCFC, as he was named the club’s first captain, the Lampard signing has been marred by controversy. Following the supposed signing, it was announced that Lampard would be sent on loan to Manchester City until the MLS campaign started up in March. Lampard came out on fire for City, which eventually led to another announcement: that Lampard would be staying in the Premier League with City for the rest of their season. It was also unearthed that Lampard had never signed with NYCFC at all. He had signed with Man City and would sign with New York at a later date. While the situation has been resolved and Lampard will be joining NYCFC in May, club supporters felt slighted and duped.

NYCFC was also able to pick up a rising star on the U.S. men’s national team, Mix Diskerud, who was an integral part of the run made during last summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Mix will hold down the midfield until Lampard arrives from England. The rest of the squad is made up of primarily MLS role players from different teams, with a few decent international players mixed in. Surely Reyna has big plans for his third designated player spot, which will likely not be filled until after the European seasons are over in May, and the transfer window opens up.

The team kicked off league play on March 8 against Orlando City FC, also an expansion team that started play this year. The game ended in a 1-1 tie, following some last minute heroics from Orlando’s captain and superstar Kaka, who deflected in a free kick off a NYCFC defender in stoppage time. Mix Diskerud scored to give NYCFC its first MLS goal. Currently, they are at the top of the Eastern Conference table with a win and two ties. Early season success can surely be attributed to Villa and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who has only given up one goal (the Kaka deflection) so far this season. Saunders was also nominated for the MLS save of the week in Week 1. Even more impressive is Villa being voted MLS player of the week for Week 2 of this season, after scoring one goal and assisting another in the team’s home opener at Yankee stadium against the New England Revolution.

The future is surely bright for not only NYCFC but also for MLS and American soccer as a whole. After a hugely successful World Cup and the addition of two new clubs in the home league, there is a lot for U.S. soccer fans to be excited about. Additionally, the U.S. national team is embarking on a trip to Europe this week. They are set to play Denmark on March 25th and Switzerland on March 30th, so be on the lookout for those games.