The inaugural game against Orlando City may be out of the way, but the spotlight is still very much on New York City FC as the club gets ready to host New England in its very first home game.
Even though expansion teams usually do not fare very well in their debut seasons, expectations regarding the city’s newest sports franchise are high. After all, this is New York City that we’re talking about.
“I’ve felt the tension that has arisen after the first game,” Mix Diskerud said after I asked him if he felt the growing anticipation. “Not a lot of soccer players experience [the launching of a new team], unless you’re born in 1901.”
According to Diskerud, though, the high expectations haven’t translated into more pressure for the players. For the US national team player, Sunday’s game will be another “normal soccer game.” “Once you’re on the field,” he continued, “you don’t pay attention to everything that’s going on around you.”
Based on conversations with them, almost all the players who attended NYCFC’s media day at Yankee Stadium, the team’s home for the foreseeable future, shared Diskerud’s sentiment.
Ned Grabavoy, who played under head coach Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake, told me that if anything, everyone was just looking forward to playing the game in front of New York supporters. “It’s a very big moment for a lot of people – club and fans. We should enjoy the moment,” particularly after “a very tough atmosphere [in Orlando] for a first game.”
For Grabavoy, Kreis has been instrumental in preparing the team for the difficulties and pressure of an inaugural season, as well adapting to a new environment. “Jason [Kreis] put a tremendous amount of time on having the team organized, and having each player really understand, not just his role, but multiple roles.”
That preparation was evident against Orlando City. New York may have had its difficulties attacking – primarily due to a lack of width and directness – but the team was well organized and defended like a cohesive unit, permitting very few spaces for Kaka and co. to exploit.
One of the standouts of the Orlando game was Chris Wingert. Wingert, who like Grabavoy also played for Kreis at RSL, has had to adapt to a new position. Having spent most of his career as a left full-back, the St. John’s University alumnus now finds himself partnering fellow veteran, Jason Hernandez.
“Considering the fact that I’ve only played there an X amount of times, I’m not quite as comfortable as I would be if I’d played center-back all the way through. But I’ve told [Kreis] I love to play there,” he told me.
For his part, Hernandez is happy with how quickly the two have gelled. A native New Yorker, Hernandez chalks Wingert’s quick adaptation to his versatility and experience. However, he also suggested that their ability to communicate effectively was another key factor, stating their “ability to get an understanding in a short period of time showed over the weekend.”
Perhaps, the greatest beneficiary of the new center-back partnership is Josh Saunders. The much traveled goalkeeper, who told me that the head injury he sustained in Orlando “looked a lot worse than it was,” had nothing but praise for the two veterans.
“If you watch the game [against Orlando] again, you should see the blocks Jason and Chris both put in. They go unnoticed.”
Saunders was the only player that admitted that he would probably feel some nerves against the Revolution on Sunday. “It’s because it’s in front of your home fans,” he said. Then quickly added: “But the minute you put pressure on yourself, you make a mistake.”