Post-Match Thoughts – Game 4 – Sporting Kansas City 1, NYCFC 0

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Belated thoughts after the first loss in New York City FC history.

It’s a small sample size but thus far the club has gone on the road for draws, while saving the results for home. With nearly three weeks to go until the next home game (Philadelphia Union, April 16th) it’s likely that last night was the last cold weather setting we’ll have to endure – at least until the playoffs.

New York’s crowd is a work in progress. There was a different atmosphere in the building last night. The opener two weeks ago felt like a major event, this time around things were more subdued. The game was officially a sell-out with 27,454 in attendance but the upper deck was closed off so it still felt fairly empty. Obviously drawing 25,000+ is great, the club and league will be thrilled if that keeps up all season, but it just highlights another drawback of playing in Yankee Stadium. The place is simply too big for the usual MLS crowd.

I don’t know if the club has announced if/when they’re planning to open the upper deck again this season. If it’s something they’re willing to consider game to game based on demand then we might see 40,000+ a few more times in 2015.  The obvious candidates are Seattle on May 3 (Clint Dempsey), Red Bulls on June 28 (local rival) and Orlando on July 26 (Kaka). Toronto is another with US National Team fixtures Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore on the roster, but they’ll both be away at Gold Cup when the club visits on July 12. Frank Lampard’s first game is a good candidate along with any playoff games.  27,454 is the realistic ceiling for most of the season so we’ll have to get used to the empty upper deck.

Crowd culture is a bigger concern right now. Some stuff will come with time – it’s only natural that the chants and songs will be slow to develop. That stuff takes years, not weeks. Only two chants really picked up any momentum last night and both were basic, “NYC! NYC! NYC!” and “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole…”. The supporter’s section appeared to have better organization but it’s still hard to hear them from the opposite side of the field. No tifo last night either unless I missed it.

One thing that has to improve in a hurry is basic crowd etiquette. Kansas City’s star winger Graham Zusi went down with what looked like a hamstring injury in the 39th minute and the crowd booed heavily as he received treatment, followed by silence as he limped off.  I tweeted this during the game last night but it’s worth repeating – that was a completely embarrassing display by New York’s fans.

As a simple rule you don’t boo an injured player. Now, I’ll concede that it’s a little bit of a gray area here.  It’s acceptable behavior when dealing with obvious embellishment or time wasting.  Neither was the case with Zusi last night.  When it’s clear that a player is actually injured the crowd is expected to show respect and applaud as he’s helped off. I mean this is Fan Behavior 101. You’ll see it at any sporting event in the US from the pros down to youth leagues.  It couldn’t be more basic, yet somehow it was lost on the fans at Yankee Stadium.

While those standards should apply to all players, the fact that Zusi is a regular on the US National Team only makes it worse. He and Matt Besler both heard it consistently from the crowd last night. In one sense it’s understandable, they’re Kansas City’s two most visible stars. But they’re also guys we were all cheering for last summer. I just thought it was a terrible display from the crowd to boo an injured Zusi and I hope we don’t see it again.

The performance on the field was forgettable. As I descended from the subway platform and headed towards the stadium I saw the starting lineups posted on Twitter. NYCFC captain David Villa was the most notable omission. A couple minutes later El Guaje himself tweeted confirmation that he was unavailable even as a substitute. With Adam Nemec and Khiry Shelton away on international duty it was pretty clear that NYCFC would struggle to create chances.

As expected, things weren’t so great going forward, especially in the first half. Admittedly I haven’t gone to watch or had a chance to read anything else yet, but it looked like Jason Kreis had them in a 4-2-3-1 with Patrick Mullins up front and the trio of Mehdi Ballouchy, Javier Calle and Ned Grabavoy behind. It’s hard to pass judgment on Mullins, he didn’t really have any opportunities – certainly nothing like the tap in chance Villa served up against New England. The midfield was far too narrow and fullbacks Chris Wingert and Jeb Brovsky couldn’t make up for it.

In general thought the defense played pretty well. Kwame Watson-Siriboe (Kwamekazi) was decent in his first start of the season, although he was beaten by Ike Opara for the game’s only goal on what amounted to an alley-oop from Besler. Jason Hernandez has quietly been one of New York’s best players in the early going and Josh Saunders was his usual reliable self.

It’s only been four games and NYCFC is an expansion team so it’s definitely too early to pass judgment, but I’m beginning to get worried about Mix Diskerud. I know he scored the first goal in team history, I know his passing numbers were at or near the top of the league through two games but he’s just not passing the eye test right now. Mix is too careless with the ball for a center mid. He tries these little flick-passes that are either hit too softly or off target – often right at the opponent. Last night he also kept trying to hit the home run pass to Mullins over the top and came up short multiple times. He doesn’t seem totally comfortable turning with the ball at his feet and usually has to play it the way he’s facing. But the most concerning thing right now is that he hasn’t shown much aggression. It’s hard for a center mid to dictate things without the ball and it’s not evident that he really wants it.  He just kind of floats around passively, taking opportunities as they come but not really demanding the ball the way you’d like to see.

Towards the end of the game last night the frustration was obvious.  He picked up one yellow for a bad challenge and looked like he was gunning for another for the next few minutes. I thought Kreis was going to take Mix off for Kwadwo Poku in the 75th minute but he swapped out Ballouchy instead.

Again, it’s very early and the whole team is still adjusting. Mix likely more than others, considering this is his first exposure to MLS. It’s just worrying because we really don’t have anything to point to aside from his reputation and so far his performance hasn’t been great. I think he’d be better served in a more advanced role with less defensive responsibility, but that’s why Kreis gets paid to coach and I don’t.

Quick Notes:

  • I thought Poku looked pretty good in his first MLS appearance. He’s a big player with obvious physical gifts. He displayed nice vision as well, putting the ball in good areas for his teammates. Definitely someone they should try to work in more going forward.
  • Fans have been clamoring for Tony Taylor over the last few weeks after he showed flashes in the preseason. He had his first chance last night and his performance was underwhelming. Just going off what we’ve seen so far I’d stick Taylor down near the bottom of the group of forwards, behind Villa, Nemec, Shelton and Mullins.
  • They had the standard box-shaped goals in place at the stadium last night after going with World Cup 1994/youth soccer style standalone goals in the opener. Definitely an improvement.
  • Frank Lampard was in attendance last night but they didn’t show him on the big screen. Smart PR move by the club, I don’t think he would have had a warm reception. Rumor is that Lampard might be headed to New York on a permanent basis earlier than expected. It’ll take a few goals before he wins over the crowd though.
  •  Last thing – no Man of the Match today.  I don’t think there’s any reason to pick someone for losses, only wins and draws.


NYCFC is off next week and resumes action against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on April 11th.

*Photo from Jereme Rauckman’s Flickr

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