After a disappointing inaugural season under Jason Kreis, New York City FC took a step in the right direction under first year manager Patrick Vieira. The club qualified for the playoffs with ease after finishing second in the eastern conference only behind their cross town rivals the New York Red Bulls. Despite the club’s success in 2016, Claudio Reyna and company have several roster holes to fill heading into the offseason. Now with rumors circulating that NYCFC is closing in on the signature of New Jersey native Giuseppe Rossi, is he really what the club needs?
To no surprise, NYCFC announced earlier this week that Frank Lampard will not be returning for the 2017 campaign. But Lampard isn’t the only central midfielder that NYCFC will need to replace. Andoni Iraola’s retirement was overshadowed by the Lampard news but the club will miss the Spaniard’s influence on the team as a defensive midfielder. Andrea Pirlo will surely be one of the clubs starting midfielders in 2017, but it’s vital that NYCFC finds the right kind of players to surround him. Pirlo has never had a high work rate; he became an Italian legend by outthinking players on the pitch. While he no longer possesses the ability we saw at Juventus, his vision and distribution are still as good as anyone in MLS. In order to take another step in the right direction, NYCFC need to find midfielders that can make up for the ground that Pirlo can’t and won’t. Portland’s Diego Chara and Vancouver’s Matias Laba are perfect examples of the kind of defensive midfielders NYCFC should be looking to compliment Pirlo with. These players cover for others, win challenges, and make smart/simple decisions on the ball. Mikey Lopez played in this role at times in 2016 and didn’t do a terrible job, but he is not the quality that NYCFC can rely on week after week.
Given Vieira’s preference to play with three central midfielders, NYCFC will need to find someone to play in a more advanced position than Pirlo to fill Lampard’s vacancy. Tommy McNamara played here sparingly and certainly has the ability to do so going forward, but NYCFC will likely still shop for a player of this mold. Again, due to Pirlo’s lack of mobility, this player is going to need to be able cover ground. Equally as important, NYCFC need an advanced midfielder that can close space and prevent players from being able to turn and pick out a pass. However, what NYCFC really need out of a third central midfielder is a player than can score goals. Lampard certainly had this ability and the club cannot expect to have success if they are relying solely on David Villa and their wingers to provide all of the offense. Successful teams have players in midfield that pose a threat to goal and can take some of the pressure off of their attacking players.
Believe it or not, solving the midfield is not NYCFC’s biggest obstacle to overcome this offseason. Since joining MLS in 2015, the club has been arguably the worst defensive team in the league. RJ Allen and Ronald Matarrita have proven to be serviceable outside backs but center back has been a revolving door of disappointment. If NYCFC want to compete for MLS Cup in 2017, they need to sign a solidified central defender. If you were to ask general managers around MLS, most would say they’re not big fans of splashing DP money on defenders, and rightly so. It is no secret that scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in soccer. Teams should be spending their money on players that can be difference makers in the offensive third, like Giuseppe Rossi. They are harder to find. But this is not the case with NYCFC. This might be the most desperate a club has been for a center back in recent MLS history. Look at the impact that players like Laurent Ciman and Liam Ridgewell (both highly paid central defenders) have had on their clubs. NYCFC need to commit that type of money to a player that can come in and immediately change the defensive culture of the team if they are to have any hopes of winning a trophy.
We are not saying that NYCFC should not sign Giuseppe Rossi. He is an extremely talented player and if they do sign him could turn out to be a terrific addition. It is just that this team has gaps that need to be filled and a striker is not one of them. The 3 positions Claudio Reyna must address in the offseason are defensive midfield, attacking midfield, and central defense. If they can find a way to address these needs and sign Giuseppe Rossi, the rest of MLS better watch out.