New York City FC's fate rest on David Villa's shoulders
By SHAY AWOSIYAN
College Contributor Network
With the Major League Soccer season only a month away, expansion club New York City FC has failed to put together a competitive side, putting a lot of pressure on captain David Villa.
Villa, 33, was supposed to be the Robin to Frank Lampard's Batman, but Lampard's stay at NYCFC's parent club, Manchester City, was extended until the summer, which means the Spanish forward will have to keep his side afloat.
Naturally, there is an enormous amount of pressure on world-renowned players joining the young, developing league. But none compares to the amount of criticism Villa will be facing from the fans and media if he can't fill up the stats sheet and lead the side out of the weaker Eastern Conference.
The location of the team is the biggest reason why Villa has to deliver immediately. It's quite simple, the residents of New York despises losers. The fans aren't very patient and the media can be cruel to teams that aren't competing for championships.
To make matter worse for NYCFC, they will be competing in the historic Yankee Stadium. The club's front office will be hoping to fill up the stadium that can seat over 49,000 people -– or at least half of that -– but that won't happen if Villa can't help his side get off to an amazing start.
It was not until recently that the neighbor and future arch-rival New York Red Bulls started filling the seats at the Red Bulls Arena regularly. And that's being generous, when you put into consideration the fact that the stadium can seat 25,000, but just over 19,000 showed up regularly last year.
The lack of top-notch teammates is the second reason why Villa will feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. A quick glance at NYCFC's roster and all you'll see are names of players with little to no professional experience, seasoned veterans nearing the end of their careers and some talented youngsters. The only name besides Villa's that the ordinary fan might recognize is Mix Diskerud.
The midfielder is being hailed as the USMNT's next top box-to-box general, but at the moment, he is just a raw talent. Diskerud, 24, is not the most lethal scorer or creator and the toughest league he's played in is the Belgian Pro League. Soccer aficionados know that the midfielder is nearing his peak, which sadly means he'll never be the top maestro USMNT supporters want him to be.
In goal, one of the most impressive rookies in 2012, Ryan Meara, and a three-time MLS Cup champion, Josh Saunders, are the players available for selection. Since bursting onto the stage in his first year, Meara has served as a backup and Saunders hasn't played an MLS game since July 2013.
At the moment, none of NYCFC's defenders are pleasing to the eye. Not too long ago George John was one of the most solid center backs in the league, but injuries have hindered his progress. The 27-year-old missed all of last season because of a right knee injury. Chris Wingert and Jason Hernandez are both decent players, but at the ages of 32 and 31 respectively, there is only so much they can do. Not much can be expected from the other defenders on the roster.
If reinforcements aren't brought in, Jason Kreis' midfield could be the league's laughing stock. Besides Diskerud, NYCFC's most intriguing midfielder is a player that has only played six professional games, all with Chivas USA. Thomas McNamara looked really good in the early stages of 2014, but was sidelined for the majority of the season because of a knee injury. The 23-year-old was really sharp in the games he played and was leading the race for the Rookie of the Year before his injury. Playing under one of the smartest managers in MLS, McNamara should flourish. However, his rise to MLS' higher echelons won't make up for NYCFC's lack of depth and creativity in the middle.
Because those playing behind him aren't the most technically gifted, Villa will do a lot of tracking back and might end up playing more as a second striker than a No.9. This style of football worked for Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls last season, but it won't yield the same productive result if Villa tried it because the Spaniard is not as crafty as the French legend and he doesn't have a potential Golden Boot-winner making terrific runs in front of him.
That unique style of play worked well with Henry because the Arsenal legend had the experienced Bradley Wright-Phillips in front of him. Villa does not have that luxury. Second-year man Patrick Mullins, highly rated rookie Khiry Shelton and not-so-lethal veteran Adam Nemec are the only players that can occupy BWP's role in NYCFC's lineup and none of them is worthy to be put in the same category as the league's top scorer.
If Villa wants to avoid a great amount of scrutiny and a terrible first season in MLS, 2015 will have to be the La Liga legend's greatest season.
Shay Awosiyan is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Oklahoma. He played soccer for 13 years and hopes to one day become a commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @THESHAY11