Jason Kreis with New York City FC
Courtesy of NYCFC

Armchair Analyst: A striker, a system and a shot at the New York Red Bulls from NYCFC

New York City FC are going to spend their money "elsewhere." They were not going to break the bank on any of the DPs eligible in Wednesday's Expansion Draft because they believe they can identify better talent elsewhere, and they were not going to use valuable international slots in the draft because that's what they'll need for said talent.

So Jason Kreis & Co. did what I expected them to do: pick exclusively from the group of guys who don't take up international roster slots from a mix of productive and reliable veterans and high-upside youngsters. This will be, in many ways, the spine of the team.


Potential Veteran Starters: M Ned Grabavoy, LB Chris Wingert, CD Jason Hernandez

The litany during the Kreis years at RSL was "It takes more than one year to learn the system," which more or less held true. Getting guys to understand the diamond – and yeah, it's starting to feel a little bit like Kreis planning to play a light blue diamond in the Bronx – takes a bit of time, especially for the wide positions.

Enter Grabavoy and Wingert, two RSL immortals entering the twilight of their respective careers, but both clearly still quality MLS starters who will help the team more in possession and defense than outright attack.

Hernandez, meanwhile, will get his fair share of minutes in central defense and will be well used in a scheme that accentuates positional nous more than raw physicality. He is also – and I can't stress this enough – absolutely beloved in MLS circles for his locker room presence:

Potential Young Contributors: F Patrick Mullins, W Daniel Lovitz, M Tommy McNamara, F Tony Taylor

Mullins is the most interesting one on this list since he had a very, very promising rookie year and can function as a human shield for David Villa in a two-forward lineup. We all saw him do some pretty impressive No. 9 work in MLS Cup, and while I don't think he'll walk into the starting job – NYCFC have to make one more big, attacking move, right? – I think he'll get 1500 or more minutes, and most of them will be good.

Lovitz is a pure wide player with speed and an intriguing left foot who'll give off-the-bench, late-game flexibility, and could compete for a starting role should Kreis opt for more of a 4-3-3.

McNamara is... well, I'm still not sure what his best position is, but he's a hell of a lot of fun to watch and has that "I know how to always be open" gene. Seriously, focus on him for 90, and you'll be shocked at how often he seems to be in yards of space. Kreis can work with that, provided McNamara recovers from his torn ACL.

Taylor is a wild card because pretty much nobody has seen him play since 2012, when he was part of the US Under-23s that failed to qualify for the Olympics. He struck me as, more than anything, an inside-out attacker who lines up at forward but actually pulls wide in the final third as, more or less, a winger. This is the way Fabian Espindola plays, but I hesitate to make that comparison since Espindola is a ball-dominant player while Taylor was very much not when I saw him last.

Of note: that type of player is excellent for pulling apart defenses and allowing lanes for goal-scoring midfielders. Like, you know, Frank Lampard.

Veteran Depth: M Mehdi Ballouchy, M Sal Zizzo

I've always loved Ballouchy, though even I can admit he's never quite found his ideal role in MLS. He's not attacking enough to be a Higuain-style No. 10; his range of passing isn't great enough to be a game-controlling, Feilhaber-style No. 10; he's not tough enough on the ball to be a Luyindula-style No. 9-and-a-half; he doesn't cover enough ground to be a Jermaine Jones-style No. 8; he's not rugged enough defensively to be a Juninho-style No. 6.

Man without a spot, right? In most formations, the answer is yes. In the diamond, however, Ballouchy should be an excellent shuttler, a guy who does a little of everything I listed above, but whose first job is to keep possession. Ballouchy has always done that extraordinarily well, and will continue to do so for the next few years.

Zizzo is yet another guy who's a bit positionless, but who has always had raw materials that catch the eye. I'd wager heavily that Kreis is planning to turn him into a fullback (others have tried and failed).

The Wild Card: CD George John

I don't know how far back most of you guys go, so let me just lay this out for you: Before his series of knee injuries, George John was as good as Omar Gonzalez. Maybe even a little bit better, with quicker feet and the ability to defend in space, which let the Dallas fullbacks push up aggressively and at speed. His defensive presence allowed them to open it up offensively.

I loved watching him play, and FCD's slow decline following the 2010 run to MLS Cup can be traced directly to John's health. There are doubts, given that he has barely played over the last couple of years, that he will ever get to that level again.

But maybe NYCFC know something about his health the rest of us don't. John's still just 27, and if they can fix him – or even get him back to 90 percent of what he was four years ago – they'll have picked themselves an All-Star.


One last note... NYCFC grabbed three guys - Wingert, Hernandez and McNamara - who are from New York. Maybe that was just coincidence, but I'm choosing to read it as a shot across the bow of the New York Red Bulls, because life is more fun with rivalries.

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