NYCFC doesn't spark the buzz it did in its earlier years.
There's no Frank Lampard, no Andrea Pirlo and now no David Villa.
Patrick Vieira, back in France at Nice, no longer works the sidelines, where he's been replaced by Spaniard Dome Torrent.
Torrent's first season was a struggle. NYCFC finished 3-6-4 over its last 13 games and fell into third place, well behind the Red Bulls and Atlanta United.
It took a while for NYCFC to get going this season -- it opened with five ties and a loss in its first six games -- but it suddenly finds itself in position to take over the lead in the Eastern Conference.
NYCFC came back from a goal down in the last seven minutes to beat the Houston Dynamo, 3-2, in a weather-delayed game on Thursday night and jumped two spots into third place in the Eastern Conference.
NYCFC has three games in hand on first-place Philadelphia and two on second-place Atlanta United, and its 1.73 points per game is the best in the Eastern Conference and second in MLS behind runaway Supporters' Shield leader LAFC.
NYCFC is not a team with big names. Alexandru Mitrija and Heber, the big offseason acquisitions, were acquired from clubs in Romania and Croatia, respectively.
Heber leads NYCFC in scoring with nine goals, two more than second-year Argentine Valentin Castellanos, who came off the bench against Houston to score the tying goal in the 83rd minute and winning goal three minutes into stoppage time.
Torrent has integrated Americans James Sands (16 starts at center back) and Keaton Parks (who got his first MLS assist on Castellanos' first goal) into the lineup and gave Eric Miller his first start against Houston since coming over from Minnesota United.
The win against Houston didn't come easily even though the Dynamo lost Romell Quioto to red card in the 29th minute.
"We had to win the game," said Torrent. "We needed the result. We were able to create opportunities. When you are in the key moment in the game you have to score. Even when it was 1-0, we had opportunities to go 2-0 three or four times and then after that [Houston] created two opportunities and they scored two goals. We were able to get the result and I am very happy about that."
NYCFC's glue is Argentine Maximiliano Moralez, who is tied with LAFC's Carlos Vela for the MLS lead in assists with 13.
With NYCFC's next game on Sunday at Atlanta United, Torrent didn't start Moralez and tried to win the game without him. The Argentine was brought on with 12 minutes to play.
"I spoke with Maxi before the game," said Torrent, "and he told me he is ready for 15-20 minutes. He is ready for the next game against Atlanta. Everybody knows how important he is for us. When he plays, the team plays different. He can score. We play with more confidence when Maxi is on the field."
Photo: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports