It’s the one we’ve been waiting for ever since the schedule was released on January 12.
NYCFC travel to Orlando for the opening weekend of the new MLS Season and it promises to be an epic duel.
Managing Editor Mark Booth picks out six Major Keys to the game…
1. Silence the Crowd
Both Alex Ring and Patrick Vieira have both played down the link between the party atmosphere expected in Orlando’s new arena and NYCFC’s chances of claiming the three points.
Ring feels as though there is too much experience in the ranks to allow a hostile atmosphere to negatively influence the team, while Vieira has actually welcomed the idea of being the first to use the away locker room.
The Frenchman knows that soccer is all about playing in loud stadiums in showpiece occasions but, behind closed doors, he will surely be emphasizing the importance of starting the game well.
An early goal could deflate the mood for the majority inside the stadium and could lay the foundations for a winning start to the campaign.
2. Two Years Later…
The photo has been shared far and wide in the days leading up to this one… David Villa, the last man standing from NYCFC’s first-ever starting XI in Orlando back in 2015.
To say a lot has changed since that 1-1 draw which kicked off both NYCFC’s and Orlando’s MLS lives would be an understatement.
Even just taking this offseason into account, there has been a significant freshening up of Vieira’s squad which reached the MLS Playoffs for the first time with that second place Eastern Conference finish.
It's been said many times in soccer that the key to successful squad-building is to strengthen from a position of strength but will that trope hold for NYCFC in year three?
How ironic it is that we take on our fellow 2015 Expansion Team on the opening weekend once again and, while it’s only one game, it’ll be a fascinating glimpse at the strides both teams have made in the intervening years.
3. The New Boys
You’d be forgiven for missing a few of the signing announcements in the offseason…
There are 12 new faces in the locker room going into year three and we should see a good number of them take to the field for the first time on Sunday evening.
Just how many will remain to be seen but new DP Maxi Moralez is one you would expect to be in the starting XI.
Moralez was hugely impressive in his two friendly appearances in Tucson, lighting up the first half of the game against Houston Dynamo, before showing more lovely touches in the win over Sporting KC which finished off preseason.
Other areas to watch include the goalkeeper position where Sean Johnson will be hoping he’s done enough to start the season between the posts.
Elsewhere, finding out the other two central midfielders selected by Vieira will be interesting, with Yangel Herrera, Alex Ring and John Stertzer all giving the Frenchman options for this season opener.
You’ll find out first here on NYCFC.com who makes the cut!
4. Patience Required?
Due to the afore-mentioned squad turnover and a few arrivals late in the offseason, Patrick admitted that it might take some time before he knows his best XI.
Vieira said: “The tactical work takes time for players to understand what I want from them but I was pleased with the last few games we played.”
For this reason, perhaps some patience will be required from fans expecting NYCFC to go in hot.
Despite his fears on the tactical side of the game, Patrick is pleased with the physical element, crediting the players for their hard work over the last two months.
He added: “What I’m most happy about is the physical side of the game. I think we compete really well first game because of the work that’s been put in this preseason on the physical side.”
5. Case of the Ex
As if there wasn’t enough to talk about before our first game of 2017, there are two former NYCFC employees on the opposite side of the Orlando/NYCFC rivalry these days.
Josh Saunders is someone who is sure to get a huge ovation when he returns to Yankee Stadium later in the season but he might be in the unusual position of being the man charged with stopping NYCFC from scoring on Sunday evening.
On the other bench from Patrick, the first Head Coach in NYCFC history Jason Kreis will be sitting, hoping to mastermind a win over his former team.
Narrative wherever you look!
6. Breaking the Hex
In three visits, we are still without a win in Orlando, going down to two losses and a draw.
The overall head-to-head record is weighted in Orlando’s favor too and so we think it’s the perfect time for us to break our Floridian hex and revel in the role as party poopers.
Bring it on!