Dominating possession is one of the focal points of New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis' philosophy. If your players have the ball more, they can have the lion's share of scoring opportunities — ideally making the most of them — while limiting your opponent's attacking chances.
Possession will be key in tonight's contest against Sporting Kansas City. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. from Yankee Stadium (YES, 970 AM, WADO).
"Everybody knows Kansas City has been one of the top teams in the league for several years now,” Kreis said. “They’re an incredibly competitive and aggressive team. We have to be prepared for a team that’s going to come here, high press us and put us to the test.”
The 2013 MLS Cup Champions will have an added sense of motivation coming into the match. The club hasn’t registered a victory yet this season, entering at 0-1-2 (2 points). In fact, Sporting KC hasn’t won in their last six matches (0-4-2) dating back to a 2-0 win over Chicago on Oct. 10, 2014.
Despite being winless, Sporting KC certainly pressures their opponents. The club has a league-leading 45 shots through the early season. New York City FC, on the other hand, has faced a league-high 47 shots (including blocks) this campaign.
“Sporting KC is traditionally a strong team over the last couple of years,” defender Jason Hernandez said. “They haven’t gotten the results they’ve wanted so far this year, so they’re going to come here ready to play. It’s on us to match their intensity from the get-go. We have to impose our tempo and control the game early on.”
New York City FC (1-0-2; 5 points) will field a slightly altered side in relation to their prior three matches. Forwards Adam Nemec and Khiry Shelton have been called up for international duty, while midfielder Sebastian Velasquez has been ruled out with a groin injury. Defender Josh Williams may miss his second consecutive game due to precautionary reasons, while Shay Facey, his replacement last week at Colorado, is suspended following two yellow cards against the Rapids.
Whichever players take the field tonight, the scoreless draw at Colorado has added to New York City FC’s motivation coming back home.
“Last week wasn’t our best showing so it’s given us more determination during the week to come back to Yankee Stadium and give the fans a good performance as well as get the result,” forward Patrick Mullins said. “We want to make sure we play the brand of soccer with the intensity we want to play. It’s been a big drive for us this week.”
The 29-year-old was called up to the Slovak National Team this week for their Euro 2016 Qualifier against Luxembourg on Friday. Nemec scored a goal and played all 90 minutes in a 3-0 victory.
With both New York City FC’s starting strike partner to David Villa and usually the first striker off the bench (Shelton) unavailable, Kreis will call upon Mullins and his former New England teammate Tony Taylor to spearhead the attack with Spain’s all-time scorer.
Despite the changes, Kreis certainly isn’t asking either Mullins, Taylor or anyone else to impersonate Nemec.
“I would be remiss if I said the things Adam is doing are the things someone else should come in and do,” Kreis said. “Adam has been spectacular in his work rate, and has been a target for us and has done so many of the dirty things that are necessary to create space for other players like David Villa, Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez. They need to be able to join the attack and in order to do that, you need someone who is willing to take the brunt of the battle, so to speak, from the defenders.
“Adam has done a terrific job with his work-rate up there and holding the ball, and he’s a much better soccer player than people tend to give him credit for.”
The 6-foot-3 Nemec has started all three games this season for New York City FC. He has six shots. Mullins scored in his lone appearance this season in the 2-0 Historic Home Opener victory over New England on March 15. Taylor, who has yet to dress, scored in the Club’s first-ever preseason match – a 2-0 win over Scottish side St Mirren on February 10.
New York City FC hasn’t allowed a goal in their last 180 minutes of play. The Club comes into tonight’s match on the heels of consecutive shutouts – a 2-0 win over the Revolution on March 15 and a 0-0 draw at Colorado on March 21.
While the defense is improving, it certainly isn’t a finished product by any means.
“I think our spacing’s getting better and our communication is getting better,” said goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who had a season-high seven saves against the Rapids. “The more we play together, the better we’re going to get."
Added Hernandez: “I think everyone’s taking accountability to step up and communicate and make it as easy as possible for the next guy. Organizationally, it will go a long ways for the team.”