In only its second MLS season, New York City FC rapidly rose to prominence last year. The club finished second in the Eastern Conference and made its first ever playoff appearance.
Second-year head coach Patrick Vieira and his squad are prepared to take another step toward becoming a perennial conference power in 2017.
Read on for three keys to the season for NYCFC, which returns to the pitch Sunday when they travel south to face Orlando City SC.
Reigning league MVP David Villa, who scored 23 goals in 2016, is back for the league’s top-scoring club. If his two seasons with the team are any indication, the captain will continue to be NYCFC’s top asset. But players like Villa, who have been with the club since its inception, will also be tasked with mentoring younger players as they continue to develop.
Alongside Villa is 37-year-old Andrea Pirlo, the legendary midfielder led City with 11 assists last season but missed the first leg of NYCFC’s semifinal loss to Toronto FC. Expect him to get right back to work in 2017 as a key facilitator.
Vieira and the club took great strides toward building for the future during the offseason. NYCFC signed a number of younger players to fill the void left by three retirees, including Frank Lampard, dropping the squad’s average age considerably.
But that’s not to say City lacked young talent last season. Midfielder Jack Harrison, 20, made an immediate impact in 2016, netting four goals and assisting on seven more after debuting in late May.
Defender Ronald Matarrita, 22, is set to begin his second season in the Bronx after appearing in 25 games last year.
Goalkeeping, an issue that reared its head on multiple occasions last season, will be a focus in 2017. Eirik Johansen will replace Josh Saunders in the net after debuting last season and starting in the club’s 7-0 aggregate playoff loss to Toronto.
In front of Johansen, defenders R.J. Allen and Maxime Chanot are likely to return to their starting roles. But with nine defenders set to dress on a nightly basis, Vieira will be forced to give more of his players minutes and make an occasional tweak to the lineup.