Consider this stretch New York City FC’s practice test.
NYCFC has gone without David Villa the past two games because of an injury suffered during the international break, and the possibility exists that he’ll miss a third against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. It’s a long-feared situation for a weary team that’s run through the table with the star taking the lead.
Over the two Villa-less games, the Blues have scored a single goal, via Jack Harrison, and dropped their first match since July — a 1-0 defeat at Yankee Stadium against the Portland Timbers. But it’s the sort of exam worth taking in September, one they’ve had time to prepare for during their successes with rotations in the starting 11.
Injuries have been nothing new for a team that has succeeded despite them. But as the Supporters’ Shield starts to fall out of reach, these next few weeks are a matter of holding on to NYCFC’s (15-8-5, 50 points) second spot in the Eastern Conference and focusing on the postseason, which begins with the knockout round on Oct. 25.
There’s no doubt this is more than a one-man band. August proved that with players including Jonathan Lewis, Rodney Wallace and Harrison up front and Maxi Moralez and Thomas McNamara in the midfield filling voids. Three wins and two draws before last weekend’s 1-0 loss showed what this team is capable of.
Deeper questions remain, such as where Andrea Pirlo fits into this final stretch after struggling at times — especially last weekend — But the Blues will be focusing on Saturday and a visit to Colorado (7-16-4, 25 points), the Western Conference’s last-place club.
Although not an ideal situation when looking to secure a playoff spot, NYCFC fans may be thankful in the long run for this time without Villa. It may be the best proving ground ahead of where they want to be in December: competing for the MLS Cup.