Domenec Torrent will try to right the NYCFC ship over the next several weeks. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX, N.Y. — Should we be concerned about New York City FC?
OK, let’s take it a step further.
Should we be worried about City?
Well, that, too.
Major League Soccer has entered its stretch drive, a time when teams have forged reputations for themselves, while others have buried themselves and finished out of the money.
Like it or not, NYCFC is in the process of burying itself.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The fourth-year MLS side should make the playoffs, but given its recent unpredictable form and poor results, City might limp into the postseason. And that is not a very good prospect for vying for the league’s Holy Grail, the MLS Cup.
Time is running out in the regular season.
“We don’t have many, many times to do something,” NYCFC head coach Domenec Torrent said after his team suffered its first home loss of the season, 1-0 to the New England Revolution at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night.
It might be “only” early September, but it’s getting late, perhaps later than you think this MLS season.
NYCFC (14-8-6, 48 points), which has a 1-4-2 record in its last seven games, sits in third place in the Eastern Conference with six games remaining in the season, with six points to make up if it wants to avoid playing in the mid-week knockout games on Oct. 31-Nov. 1. The Red Bulls (17-7-4, 55) lead the way, followed by Atlanta United (16-5-6, 54), which has a game in hand on City. Making up six points in six games looks like a Herculean task, though not an impossible one, although Atlanta has been a tough nut to crack in only its second year in the league.
(One-shot deals can be unpredictable. Even if a team hosts that game, the underdog has been known to pull off an upset or two. Besides, another bonus for finishing first and second is about a week’s worth of rest, which is a present after a grueling 34-game season).
I asked Torrent if NYCFC still can finish one-two in the conference and earn a bye.
“We will try to because that’s our job,” he said. “We lost two games in a row, but we will try to do [it]. Right now we have six games, but I will try to improve. Tonight we [wanted] to win the game but sometimes it’s not possible. If we play the way we did tonight maybe we can do something special in the MLS, but not in the last game [vs. Columbus).”
The schedule doesn’t exactly favor NYCFC.
In fact, it’s screwy, probably one of the craziest ever devised for a team this late in the season.
Think about it.
City must play three matches in eight days, including two during the international break down a minimum of four starters who are away with their respective national teams.
After Sunday’s home game against D.C. United, the team gets a well-deserved two weeks off.
NYCFC then must play another three matches over eight dates — at Montreal Sept. 22, vs. Chicago at Yankee Stadium Sept. 26 and at Minnesota Sept. 29.
Then, guess what?
The team doesn’t get one, not two, but three weeks off before resuming play Sunday, Oct. 21 at D.C. United before completing the regular season against the Philadelphia Union at the stadium Sunday, Oct. 28.
To his credit, Torrent, who is still learning the ins and outs of the league (then again many of us are) did not use the crazy MLS schedule as an excuse.
“This is MLS,” he said, repeating the two long layoffs just before the postseason. “I accept it.”
A little later Torrent said, “I don’t want to speak any more about MLS. I accept the rules. I accept the competition. I love to work here in the USA. If it is possible, I want to stay here more years because I love this game. Maybe next year I will understand better the rules.”
Until then, Domenec Torrent will cope and find a way to right and bail out NYCFC ship that has started to take on some water.