Ultimate Guide to MLS Weekend: Can NYCFC Fix Early-Season Issues?

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 29, 2016

New York City FC's Jason Hernandez, center, reacts with teammates after an MLS soccer game against the Montreal Impact, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

New York City FC have played 42 Major League Soccer matches in their short existence. In those contests, the second-year side has 11 wins, 20 losses and 11 draws that amount to 41 points. 

In addition to the lack of results, the sister club of Manchester City fired a rising American manager in Jason Kreis and replaced him with Patrick Vieira. NYCFC also signed Frank Lampard and Mix Diskerud to big-name deals. 

If we use the current sample size of production and influence on the pitch, Lampard and Diskerud are two of the most overrated players in MLS. You can also make a good case that Lampard, the former Chelsea legend, is the worst designated-player signing in league history.

The good news when it comes to big names in the NYCFC midfield is Andrea Pirlo has adjusted to the league after a full offseason at the club. He may not be a box-to-box workhorse, but he has delivered a good amount of quality in 2016. 

Oct 2, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; New York City FC midfielder Frank Lampard (8) dribbles the ball as D.C. United midfielder/defender Markus Halsti (4) chases in the first half at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. United won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The issues don't end in midfield, as NYCFC have displayed countless deficiencies in the back four, and they have built a reputation of conceding late and failing to earn three points when ahead during the closing stages of the second half. Unlike the other teams in the Eastern Conference who finished near the bottom in 2015, NYCFC havn't given us many reasons to believe they have grown during their first full offseason as an MLS side. 

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Saturday's performance at Talen Energy Stadium against the Philadelphia Union was arguably the worst we've seen all season from any club. David Villa was isolated on an island by himself in the final third, and Kwadwo Poku, who is supposedly the answer to NYCFC's problems, was invisible for the majority of his time on the pitch in Pirlo's absence.

Vieira's men appeared to take a step forward on Wednesday at home against Montreal until the Impact struck for a 91st-minute equalizer by way of Dominic Oduro. 

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Midfielder RJ Allen #27 of New York City FC pushes the ball forward during the match vs Montreal Impact at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 2016 in New York City.  The match ended in a 1-1 draw.  (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images
Michael Stewart/Getty Images

No quick fix appears to be in sight for NYCFC except for the "play the ball to Villa and hope he does something special on the ball" strategy. The Spaniard has excelled in front of the net on a few occasions in 2016 as he has a pair of braces against Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew, but even the legendary forward has been unreliable at times. 

If NYCFC can find a second playmaker in the final third to partner Villa, the club might be able to bail out the defense in a few more games over the course of the arduous MLS campaign. Eliminating all of the issues in the back four will take time, but holding on to a lead and securing a victory against Vancouver on Saturday would do wonders for the team's confidence. 

Apr 27, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC forward David Villa (7) in action during the second half against the Montreal Impact at Yankee Stadium. New York City FC and the Montreal Impact ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

What makes the struggles of NYCFC more frustrating to its supporters is the sudden surge of life from the rival New York Red Bulls across the river. The Red Bulls finally broke through for three goals at home on Sunday, and they appear to have a defensive fix coming in the form of Aurelien Collin, who will be sent to the Red Bulls in a trade with Orlando City, per Alicia DelGallo of the Orlando Sentinel.

With just under a month left before the first Hudson River derby of the season, NYCFC must be able to show progression under Vieira before May 21 or the Red Bulls could walk all over the second-year side at Yankee Stadium. 

The spotlight will shine bright on a few other teams and players in Week 9. Below we have a look at the players to watch and our pick for game of the week. 

Week 9 Schedule

FC Dallas at New York Red Bulls (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, UniMas)

San Jose Earthquakes at Philadelphia Union (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Vancouver Whitecaps at New York City FC (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Colorado Rapids at Montreal Impact (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Columbus Crew at Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

D.C. United at Chicago Fire (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Orlando City at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Toronto FC at Portland Timbers (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

LA Galaxy at Sporting Kansas City (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) 

Players to Watch

Didier Drogba, FW, Montreal Impact

Didier Drogba may not play the whole 90 minutes against Colorado on Saturday due to his midweek start in the 1-1 draw with NYCFC, but he needs to make a mark at Stade Saputo in Week 9.

Apr 23, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba (11) plays the ball as Toronto FC defender Drew Moor (3) defends during the first half at Stade Saputo. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Ivorian has played a role in two of the club's three tallies since working his way back to full fitness. If the Impact want to finish off the Rapids early on home soil, Drogba will most likely play a key role in doing so. 

Pa Modou Kah, CB, Vancouver Whitecaps

If you glance over Vancouver's defensive predicament for Saturday's trip to Yankee Stadium, you'd assume Villa is set to have a field day in the final third. 

Feb 24, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers midfielder Ben Zemanski (14) reacts after Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Pa Modou Kah (44) heads the all over him at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Whitecaps will be without the suspended Kendall Waston, and they will be coming off a cross-country flight on little rest after a home draw on Wednesday with Sporting Kansas City.

Veteran defender Pa Modou Kah will be tasked with stopping Villa alongside Tim Parker. If the 35-year-old who hasn't started since March 26 thrives against the Spanish forward, it will go down as one of Week 9's top performances.

Jonathan Campbell, CB, Chicago Fire

The Chicago Fire are still a work in progress in all aspects of the game under first-year boss Veljko Paunovic, but they have turned in some good showings over the first eight weeks of the season.

Apr 10, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Fire defender Jonathan Campbell (16) looks up against the New York City FC during the first half at Yankee Stadium. NYCFC and Chicago played to a 0-0 tie.  Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Fire head back to the pitch after a week off to face a D.C. United side that put up seven goals in its last three games. 

Rookie defender Jonathan Campbell will have to limit the opportunities of the D.C. forwards in order to allow the likes of Kennedy Igboananike and Gilberto to pounce against the back four of the Black and Red. If the Fire defense has holes in it on Saturday like it has at some points this season, Ben Olsen's side could easily leave Toyota Park with three points. 

Diego Chara, CDM, Portland Timbers

Diego Chara faces his toughest task of the season to date on Sunday, as he has to stop the red-hot Sebastian Giovinco at Providence Park.

Apr 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara (21) and Orlando City FC midfielder Darwin Ceren (17) battle for the ball as defender Jermaine Taylor (back) follows behind during the second half of a soccer match at Orlando Citrus B
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers midfield enforcer has the potential to wreak havoc on opposing forwards with his physical play. 

As long as he doesn't concede set pieces from close range with his tackling, Chara should be able to disrupt Giovinco enough to keep him out of a rhythm. 

Game of the Week

LA Galaxy at Sporting Kansas City

Things are already getting tight at the top of the Western Conference, as the top six teams in the standings are separated by four points. 

Both the LA Galaxy and Sporting KC have a chance to distance themselves a bit from the postseason cutoff line in Sunday's showdown at Children's Mercy Park. 

The key matchup to watch in this contest will be Giovani dos Santos versus the Sporting KC back four. The pair of Nuno Coelho and Matt Besler have impressed when together, but an in-form Dos Santos will be tough to deal with. Dos Santos has three goals and two assists in the last two games. In addition to the Mexican attacker, Gyasi Zardes should also be a handful to deal with based off his recent performances. 

On the other end of the pitch, the Galaxy are looking to secure their first clean sheet since April 2. Before settling into a rhythm against Real Salt Lake in Week 8, the L.A. back four had some trouble with RSL's combination play in the final third. Dom Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber will try to do the same thing Juan Manuel Martinez did a week ago in the opening stages of the match. 

The final game of the weekend could either be a shootout with the players mentioned above enjoying plenty of chances or it could turn into a defensive stalemate where one quality chance makes the difference. 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.