New York City FC kicks off for the first MLS regular season game in its history on Sunday against Orlando City SC, and the milestone comes with higher expectations than most expansion franchises.
The team, owned by the group that also owns EPL powerhouse Manchester City, has a combination of overseas star power and MLS veterans acquired through signings and the expansion draft that could make it a contender for a playoff spot from its inception. Only two teams have done it in their season before.
"I think we'll really begin to find out how far we've come and how long we still have to go with these first several games we have coming up this month," Jason Hernandez, an 11-year MLS veteran, said. "We are built to make sure that we're playing exciting football, and football that New York can be proud of."
Head coach Jason Kreis came in from Real Salt Lake, where he often used the 4-4-2 diamond formation. There have been questions about whether Kreis, who spent time learning from Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, will employ that same strategy or something new for his current set of players.
"We put a big emphasis on not being just a one-trick pony and being able to adapt and play in different scenarios, different formations," Hernandez said. "I think as we get closer to the match, Jason [Kreis] will decide exactly how we want to go forward to get a result."
Hernandez and teammate Ryan Meara are both New Yorkers and each said separately that the lead up to this first season has been surreal.
"I think all the soccer fans here have really been waiting for a professional soccer team to play in New York City," Meara said. "You can feel the hype around the city especially as the season draws closer."
Any team entering a new season can be expected to have growing pains, but for a brand-new franchise, unfamiliarity might take a whole lot longer. Hernandez said the preseason went a long way in helping to avoid that.
"The preseason is a really important time for a team to gel," he said. "We're lucky enough that the organization has put together a lot of players that have been around MLS, so a lot of us have played with or against each other over the years."
But now, the games count.