Jack Harrison: “We’ve got all of the characteristics to win an MLS Cup. It’s just down to us to do that.” Logan Bowles/USA Today Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
NEW YORK — Is there an MLS Cup in the offing for New York City FC?
If they can make any sort of improvement off their fine sophomore season, the Blues could wind up in contention for a spot for the Major League Soccer championship.
After all, City finished its expansion season in 2015 at 10-17-7 and out of the playoff picture.
Last season was a complete reversal as NYC FC (15-10-9) battled the Red Bulls for the Eastern Conference lead before losing steam in the final weeks. The Blues were eliminated in the conference semifinals by eventual MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC, 7-0, in the aggregate goals series.
Midfielder-forward Jack Harrison, who is ready to embark on his second professional season, sees the MLS Cup light at the end of the tunnel. He thinks City can reach U.S. domestic soccer’s promised land and take a victory lap with the Philip F. Anschutz trophy around a stadium.
“Yeah, I think so, definitely,” he said at NYC FC media day at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan Thursday. “We’ve got a great group of guys who are very talented. We all want to work hard. We are all on the same page and we have the same ambition. We’ve got a great coaching staff as well. We’ve got all of the characteristics to win an MLS Cup. It’s just down to us to do that.”
Those characteristics include a pair of former World Cup champions — David Villa (Spain, 2010) and Andrea Pirlo (Italy, 2006), several other attacking options and an innovative coach who also won a World Cup as a player — Patrick Vieira (France, 1998).
Knowing how to win and having tasted it before at so many different levels can go a long way. While the World Cup titles are impressive, newcomer Rodney Wallace brings a different dimension to the NYC FC pursuit of a league championship — he already won one with the Portland Timbers. That was MLS Cup in 2015.
So, his presence on the team certainly can’t hurt. Besides, the Costa Rican international has been in the league for five years, so he knows the nooks, crannies and surprises a 34-game schedule over eight months, four time zones and more climate and even altitude changes that you can shake a stick at.
“I’ve been blessed in that situation where I can win an MLS Cup,” Wallace said. “I know it wasn’t easy and i know it takes a lot of work. It’s a long season. If you break it down, it goes by pretty quick.
“It’s important to each game very seriously and to know that each single result really matters. At the end of the day we have to know we gave it our best. If we keep thinking that way and we’re hungry for results and stick together, we have a better chance of making it to the playoffs and once we’re in the playoffs, it’s just all about how badly we really want it. What I see in this locker room, every single person is hungry. Everybody wants to win. And it’s not just in the games, it’s in training. Everyone wants to compete. Everyone’s doing their part to make us successful.”
How successful, it remains to be seen.
If there is a weak link entering the season, or at least a questionable one, it would be the defense, team and backline. City allowed too many goals at the wrong time. When he played, Luxembourg international center back Maxime Chanot helped shore up the back four. It will be interesting to see if Alexander Callen, who paired with Chanot in the season-opening 1-0 loss to Atlanta United Sunday, can continue to keep the opposition away from converting dangerous opportunities into the net.
If the Blues can do that, they just might not be crying the blues come next autumn.