New York City FC signed off on Preseason 2018 with an entertaining 2-2 tie with Montreal Impact in St Petersburg last night.
Managing Editor Mark Booth looks back on an eventful final appetizer for Season Four…
Next weekend there will be New York City FC, Major League Soccer back in our lives.
The offseason was cold and long but those hopeful Spring afternoons, those sweltering summer evenings and those tense Fall nights are coming back to the Bronx.
This was NYCFC’s final preseason engagement and, as many predicted, it saw a significant leap forward in terms of the intensity and pace of the encounter when compared to scrimmages and friendly matches in previous weeks.
Maybe it was still just half a step behind your typical MLS meeting between these sides but both teams were certainly Regular Season sharp in their final thirds and combative in their defensive zones, creating the high quality, entertaining spectacle we were treated to.
Out went the experimental, fitness-building lineups Patrick Vieira had fielded up to now in Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Mexico and Orlando and in came the most familiar-feeling XI we’ve seen up to now.
The Herrera/Ring/Moralez midfield axis, so balanced and effective in 2017, was intact here and showed just why their Head Coach will have rued the injuries and suspensions that seemed to keep them apart for long stretches last year.
Elsewhere, Sean Johnson made a couple of crucial saves, Anton Tinnerholm got up and down the right to great effect, Maxime Chanot looked over his injury troubles, Alexander Callens was good on both sides of the ball, while Rodney Wallace and Jesus Medina both pressed and schemed well on the wings.
And, of course, David Villa was David Villa.
… boy, was he.
The legendary Spaniard had been working his way back to this kind of form in recent weeks after the small injury which disrupted his start to preseason.
He looked up to no good from the very start of this exhibition match, his inventive one-touch interplay across the front line - his trademark shoulder drops and dizzying spins in-behind a most pleasing sight for those looking in on the stream on laptop and TV screens across the five boroughs.
This was Regular Season El Guaje in full effect as he cheekily lifted the ball over the onrushing Evan Bush for his first, then arced in a picture perfect free-kick to double the damage.
This was David Villa ready to lead City into battle with the greatest city in the world at his back for a fourth time.
Strength in Numbers
Another man who’s got the proverbial bit between his teeth once again this year is Ronald Matarrita.
The Costa Rican international has been training like a man possessed this preseason as he seeks to make up for time lost in 2017 when he suffered a couple of niggling injuries.
With Ben Sweat continuing to pull up trees in his opportunities on preseason after a sterling first year with City, this left back spot is an especially fascinating one to follow in the months ahead and should bring the very best out of both players.
However, if you look elsewhere on the pitch, you realize it’s just one position NYCFC look to have well-stocked for 2018.
You only have to consider the strong XI fielded vs. Montreal and look at those on the bench... it’s an exciting prospect to think on at the dawn of a new campaign.
That’s a Wrap
… but as far as the preseason goes, this was the final curtain call as the Boys in Blue travel back to the Empire State on Sunday.
The road to Kansas starts here and we’ll be helping to set the stage for the season with a two-part State of the City interview with Sporting Director Claudio Reyna right here on NYCFC.com this week, as well as all of the previews and talking points for the big one.
One Week to Go.