New York City FC say playoffs still within sight after using bye weekend to refocus

PURCHASE, N.Y. – It was a few days of soul searching and hard work for New York City FC as they enjoyed a well-timed and much-needed bye week.

“I think it’s been really good because it afforded us a week to work extremely hard, some guys that were maybe lacking a bit of fitness and game preparedness got a lot of work last week,” NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis said. “To have two days off on the weekend was a chance for us to walk away from the game and sort of rethink about what lies in front of us.”

The break came at a good time. Kreis was critical of his team’s response to adversity in their last two losses, including in a 2-1 defeat to Columbus Crew SC on Aug. 29 that left them winless in their last three games and had Kreis saying it was the first time he’s seen quit in his side.

“We looked at it as how can we be better as a group on the field,” goalkeeper Josh Saunders said. “[Coaches] can only do so much from the sidelines. We have to be able to put it together on the field and collectively bring each other up.”

Saunders said there’s been more of an emphasis on accountability on the field with a crucial away match against FC Dallas looming Saturday (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

“We worked on our communication and being a little more demanding and meaner with each other,” he said.

There is still a belief that the playoffs are a possibility, but the challenge is great.

NYCFC have dropped to ninth in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the playoff line. Two teams stand between them and sixth-place Montreal Impact, who have three games in hand, for the final playoff spot.

“I think right now we still have a chance,” Kreis said. “This isn’t a time where we say, 'OK we’re just going to evaluate players for next season.' I think we’re still in this with a chance and we’re going to give it everything we have until we’re mathematically out of it.”

Kreis said last week’s training sessions were some of the most spirited the club has had all year.

“This week the team looks focused and committed and today we had a lighter day and I think the guys enjoyed it,” Kreis said. “There were a lot of smiles on faces.”

There was also a much fitter Khiry Shelton fully participating. Sidelined with a quad strain after suffering a knee injury, the rookie forward could be set to see his first action since May 30.

“He’s been good,” Kreis said. “It’s been great to have him back out here because he provides something no other player on our team has, which is some real pace and some real ability to get behind opponents and stretch the defense.”

Kreis said he needs to speak with Shelton ahead of Saturday’s showdown before bringing him back into the fold.

“I think we need to have some conversations about where exactly he is,” Kreis said. “I’m a little hesitant to say that because he’s only been involved in one week of training. But desperate times sometimes calls for desperate answers.”