New York City FC note dramatic progress since loss at Red Bulls: "We're starting to develop an identity"

NEW YORK – When New York City FC first stepped onto the field against the New York Red Bulls in May, a deafening cacophony of song and noise at Red Bull Arena greeted an expansion side mired in a winless streak that would ultimately stretch to 11 games.

The Red Bulls were in the midst of their finest form of the season, and they won that match 2-1.

However, the NYCFC team that steps onto the field in round two vs. the Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon (4:30 pm ET, ESPN) – in front of a crowd expected to surpass 40,000 – will be vastly different.

Like a newborn baby, the MLS newcomers have grown by leaps and bounds in less than two months and enter the match on a season-best four-match unbeaten streak, including three consecutive wins.

NYCFC are now more mature, and more confident.

“This group has discovered a little bit about itself and I think we’re starting to develop an identity – who exactly we are and are going to be for the rest of the season,” NYCFC coach Jason Kreis said at a press conference held at Heineken House in Manhattan Thursday.

“We have now just come to the point where we’ve spent the requisite amount of time together, so the players can understand how each other plays and where each of them are going to be when we have the ball and we don’t.”

Kreis also pointed toward personnel changes on the field that have altered NYCFC’s fortunes, especially the move to slide Shay Facey into central defense and push Chris Wingert out to left back.

For both players, it’s their more natural position and the result has been a more stout backline in front of goalkeeper Josh Saunders, the team’s MVP to this point.

“I would say that is one of the biggest contributing factors in why we’ve gotten better results, is that our back four has looked more coordinated and cohesive,” Kreis said.

On Thursday, NYCFC announced that Facey’s loan from Manchester City has been extended until the end of the season.

“Shay has done a really nice job for us,” Kreis said. “For a young player in his first professional season, it’s been top-notch, really. His performances over the past several weeks have also been top-notch.”

NYCFC’s overall improvement is evident to Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch.

“I think David Villa has gotten himself going more, Mix Diskerud playing underneath him has created a good partnership there. Their midfield has now started to understand what their roles are and their relationship,” Marsh said. “Part of it comes from results and confidence, but it also comes from getting the right combinations of players on the field.”

Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty has also noticed the difference, and he’s familiar with the way the NYCFC midfielders are competing.

“They’re a very fluid team, they move very well, they interchange a lot,” McCarty said. “I think that goes back to Jason and his Real Salt Lake days. He likes to have midfielders who play multiple different positions and multiple different roles.”