By Michael Lewis
On the western bank of the Hudson River, we have a team that had trouble filling the net last year that finds itself atop the Eastern Conference after scoring seven goals in its first two matches.
On the eastern bank, we have the MLS reigning champions who have struggled to score and have but one point to show in their opening two games.
With the MLS season but two weeks old, it is easy to put every club under the microscope.
The Red Bulls, who barely got into the playoffs last season, look like world beaters, while City has struggled to live up to expectations.
Two games is hardly a sample from which to project a season because of all the twists and turns there can be in an MLS season (although NYCFC doesn’t want to have its slow start to symbolize the rest of the year). This league is about parity more than any other first division league in the world. The weak can rise and turn into a championship contender or title winner, and a team that looks like it is ready to dominate for years to come, could fall back into the pack.
A few days ago, I watched an interview of a Ukrainian woman whose message was to enjoy every day because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. For most of us, that is easier said than done, but I have tried to remind myself of what she said when I have gotten bogged down in the most ridiculous of minor worries.
Translated for Red Bulls supporters:
Cherish the moment. Enjoy the two wins. We don’t know what the next 32 regular-season encounters will bring.
Lewis Morgan, Saturday’s hat-trick hero of the 4-1 demolition of Toronto FC, could be on the verge of an all-star season and the players are not only embracing but executing Gerhard Struber’s system to the max. This could be the start of something big. We have seemed greater turnarounds by clubs in the league.
Putting the first two opponents into perspective, I realize the San Jose Earthquakes and Toronto FC were probably far from the best the league has to offer. But that’s how any teams such as Manchester City, Inter, Real Madrid pile up wins, by besting inferior opponents.
Only time will tell whether this will be the start of something big or just another tease for fans who have been subjected to way too many of them since the league kicked off in 1996. They have rolled with the punches. Some are frustrated, some have become sarcastic while many remain hopeful.
On the flip side, NYCFC hasn’t exactly stunk up the joint in its first two matches, but it has lacked scoring punch, even with the 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner, Taty Castellanos, on the team. So the team returns home with a point.
Strikers, as I have written many times, can be streaky. They can go games and games without finding the net and then sudden everything they touch will turn to goal.
Part of it is skill, confidence and sometimes a little luck.
A dink goal can restore a slumping players’ confidence in an instant.
The main thing is to keep plugging the way. That goes for Castellanos and his teammates.
The one question I have for NYCFC is whether it retained enough fire power around Castellanos so the team doesn’t rely on him too much. It has not replaced two of the three leading goal-scorers who left the club in the offseason – Jesus Medina (nine goals) and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (seven goals in 1,234 minutes). No one with a nose for the goal has been brought in. Of course, that could change in a heartbeat with the summer transfer window (although most fans want results now).
Now, I am not trying to read anyone’s mind, but I must wonder how much of all this possible transfer talk of Castellanos joining a club for millions not going through has affected him. Just wondering if there has been any disappointment of not joining a new club has rubbed off on him.
As we have learned over the years, there is another day to win, accrue points and entertain your ardent supporters.
For NYCFC, another day will the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals against Comunicaciones FC of Guatemala in East Hartford, Conn. on Tuesday night. On paper, it is considered a home game. In reality, it is more of a neutral site-home match because Concacaf deemed Yankee Stadium unusable for CCL play.
A win, especially one by multiple goals, will go a long way in allaying some fears about the squad’s struggling league start. A draw or heaven forbid, a loss, in Connecticut, will damage the team’s chances of reaching the semifinals and have more supporters wondering about the state of the team.
It has been a difficult schedule for the club, having been away from home for but six days since it started training on Jan. 17. City played twice in southern California last week (a CCL encounter and league match). The Cityzens flew home from Vancouver immediately after its Saturday contest and will have two days to recover and prepare for the Concacaf match.
Not exactly the best way to prep, but a soccer schedule can get brutal for a team with so many competitions on tap.
Ronny Deila’s team will be given four days to recover before celebrating its 2021 MLS Cup championship at Yankee Stadium next Saturday. It should be a glorious day for its fans and team, which will welcome Montreal for its home opener, hungry for some goals and a win.
Given that only three teams have won back-to-back MLS titles, NYCFC fans should embrace the day. You never know when it will come again.
Both home openers are unique, to say the least.
The MLS Cup champion NYCFC comes home without a win to a baseball ballpark it calls a home.
The Red Bulls return to Red Bull Arena, one of the best soccer stadiums in North America, if not the best, undefeated and riding some surprising momentum ready to host Minnesota United. Perhaps some media and fans are wondering if they could fill the place off such an excellent start (outside of a Hudson River Derby confrontation with NYCFC).
Some unsolicited words of wisdom to supporters of both clubs: Enjoy the moment and day.