New York City FC enters post-David Villa era as 2019 season begins in Orlando

New York City FC enters post-David Villa era as 2019 season begins in Orlando

While many key Blues players return from last year’s conference semifinalists, the club must find a new identity with their ex-captain gone.

New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson posted 10 shutouts last season, his second with the club.
New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson posted 10 shutouts last season, his second with the club. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

New York City FC enters its fifth season looking for an identity.

A team that thrived behind a superstar enters a new era with capable replacements, but also an emphasis on the collective. A cast of starters returns, looking for a new leader while aiming for the team’s first MLS Cup. Whether a new star is born from the group or the collective carries the team, here are keys that would serve NYCFC well in the 2019 season, which begins Saturday on the road against Orlando City SC.

Sean Johnson stays the course

Sean Johnson has been a consistent presence in the net over the past two seasons for the Blues. He tallied 100 saves and 10 shutouts in 2018 while showing he can perform at a high level with different quality defenses.  The goalkeeper is a vocal piece of leadership on any team and, if the 10-year veteran can maintain his consistency, NYCFC will have a commanding presence directing the back line.

“It’s a good mix of guys, obviously a talented group,” Johnson told NYCFC.com last month. “Just have to bring it all together.”

Excel in formation

Head coach Domènec Torrent took over in June 2018, guiding NYCFC to a lackluster finish to the regular season and an exit in the Eastern Conference semifinals — eliminated by eventual MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC. If the preseason is any indication, he’ll run a 4-3-3 formation. It’ll give room for the forwards to operate, while also providing space for a talented midfield.

Designated player Maxi Moralez will look to move into a leadership role after notching 16 assists, fourth in the MLS in 2018. He’ll have a new partner in 21-year-old newcomer Keaton Parks, on loan from Benfica.

“[I’m a] box-to-box player,” Parks said in a January introduction video released by the team. “I have great vision, good touches on the ball, good passing, and I can also make a good tackle when I need to. I like to be all over the field all the time.”

Replace David Villa

Team captain David Villa moved on to Japan from his perch atop NYCFC’s offense,  leaving a huge gap to fill, and Alexandru Mitriță is the man named for the task. He’s the team’s latest designated player after scoring 12 goals in 16 appearances for Romanian Liga I side Universitatea Craiova this season.

Mitrita historically plays as a winger, which should fit Torrent’s system. He may also be forced to perform as an attack-focused athlete at the top of the Blues’ formation. Fellow DP Jesus Medina and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi can be expected to share that load. Tajouri-Shradi followed Villa in 2018 scoring with 11 goals, while Medina netted six.

Kieran Lynch