Sneak Peek: Vieira is convinced NYCFC will be improved

In his first season, Patrick Vieira proved that a foreign coach unfamiliar with MLS could find the right formula and win games.

Opening day …
Projected XI – Johnson; Allen, Brilliant, Chanot, Matarrita; Camargo, Pirlo, Moralez; Wallace, Villa, McNamara.

True, very few men came to MLS with such a remarkable resume as a player, and it’s also true he had the services of several Designated Players and a supportive parent club in Manchester City.

Yet still he relied on the knowledge and experience of technical director and former U.S. international Claudio Reyna to verse him in the byzantine ways of MLS, and clearly and quickly transformed his ideas into performances that landed NYCFC in second place with 54 points, a 17-point improvement from its expansion season in 2015.

Precisely where he succeeded and predecessor Jason Kreis failed isn’t as important as what happens next on the field, which for the foreseeable future for home games will be Yankee Stadium. Vieira is convinced his squad is stronger this year despite the departure of English midfielder Frank Lampard and a significant change in goal.
“This year we will have more competitiveness between the players and that will help to get the best out of every single one of them,” said Vieira after NYCFC dropped a 1-0 decision to Colorado on Wednesday. “I think that’s why I like about this group -- it’s young and we have two or three really good players in each position -- that means if you’re going to play, you have to play really well. I don’t want players to feel comfortable and to feel they’re going to play every week -- no, you have to work hard for your spot.”

Heading into the final preseason contest Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, late arrivals Alexander Callens, Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring had yet to play a minute in any game, and Vieira insisted he didn’t know what his starting lineup will be when the regular season kicks off in Orlando City’s new stadium March 5.
Ring and Herrera are two of the candidates to fill the defensive mid role vacated when Andoni Iraola retired. Incumbent Khiry Shelton faces a battle for playing time on left wing with ex-Timber Rodney Wallace, Jack Harrison’s starting spot could be challenged by Miguel Camargo, and even the talents of fan favorite Tommy McNamara may not guarantee him consistent starts.
NYCFC set a dubious mark last year by conceding 57 goals, the most of any playoff team. By scoring 62, it still managed to post a positive goal difference but two important additions -- goalkeeper Sean Johnson and centerback Callens -- are clear indications Vieira wants to stop leaking goals.
Teenager James Sands, who will spend much of the season with the U.S. U-17s, has been training impressively with the first team on leave from the U.S Soccer residency program.

The NYCFC academy product has yet to sign a pro deal but has done well enough to pique the interest of Vieira, who started his coaching life with the Manchester City Elite Development Squad (EDS) and Reserve Team.

Who’s in …
GOALKEEPERS: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire, Trade via Atlanta United). DEFENDERS: RJ Allen, Alexander Callens (Numancia/SPA, Free), Ben Sweat (Tampa Bay Rowdies, NASL Signing). MIDFIELDERS: Kwame Awuah (UConn, SuperDraft), Miguel Camargo (Chorillo FC/PAN, Loan), Yangel Herrera (Manchester City/ENG, Loan), Jonathan Lewis (Univ. of Akron), Maximiliano Moralez (Leon/MEX, Transfer), Alexander Ring (Kaiserslautern/GER, Transfer), John Stertzer (Real Salt Lake, Free Agent), Rodney Wallace (Recife/BRA, Free Agent). FORWARDS: Sean Okoli (FC Cincinnati, USL Signing).
Who’s out …
GOALKEEPERS: Josh Saunders (Orlando City, Trade). DEFENDERS: Connor Brandt, Jason Hernandez, Diego Martinez, Jefferson Mena (Barcelona/ECU, Loan). MIDFIELDERS: Mehdi Ballouchy (Retired), Federico Bravo, Andoni Iraola (Retired), Frank Lampard (Retired). FORWARDS: Steven Mendoza (Corinthians/BRA, Loan Expired), Tony Taylor (Pacos de Ferreira/POR, Free Agent).
First five games …
March 5 – at Orlando City.
March 12 – D.C. United.
March 18 – Montreal.
April 1 – San Jose.
April 8 – at D.C. United.

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