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David Lee: New York City FC have one of the strongest rosters in MLS

There’s been a myriad of moves this Major League Soccer offseason, with seemingly every team in the league splashing cash trying to upgrade their roster. 

And then there’s New York City FC. In the city that never sleeps, the Cityzens have been eerily silent. 

That’s by design, according to new sporting director David Lee.

“I think we are extremely happy with the roster we’ve got, having the continuity that we have from last year to this, which we thought was one of the best rosters in MLS,” Lee said. “We’ve got the majority of those players back, so I think we are happy with the roster we’ve got. But we are certainly still looking to add new players as well.”

NYCFC return all 11 regular starters from a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference with an 18-6-10 record under former head coach Dome Torrent, marking the club’s most successful season to date before bowing out to Toronto FC early in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

Outside of the MLS SuperDraft, the biggest headlines have been NYCFC securing winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and midfielder Keaton Parks on long-term deals. They've also added midfielder Gedion Zelalem on a free after the former US youth international experienced an up-and-down 2019 season with Sporting Kansas City

Lee called the signing of Parks, who was on loan from Benfica a year ago, “hugely important.” The 22-year-old became an integral part of NYCFC’s midfield after entering the starting lineup in late June. 

“[We were] really, really keen to bring him back. It’s not always as easy as we might like it to be,” Lee said. “There are three parties that have to be happy with any deal, which is the player, his current club and the new club. We spent a lot of time working through that. It was a lot of hard work to get to a resolution everyone was happy with, but absolutely delighted he’s here, he’s here permanently, signed a long-term contract with the club and will be with us for a number of years.”

The most glaring need, according to Lee, is at left back after Ben Sweat was selected by Inter Miami CF in the Expansion Draft. 

“We’re certainly looking to add another left back as well as another couple of positions as well,” he said. 

With the January transfer window still open, Lee said NYCFC are exploring all options, hoping to add to what is arguably the deepest roster in the league. But it’s not just about depth. 

“We want to add players who will improve our level, improve our squad, whether that’s players who can come in to a starting group and improve the starting group or players that can add improve the depth,” Lee said. “We’re not adverse to either of those. We’re just looking for the right players at the right value who can come in and improve our squad.”

Even if NYCFC remain quiet in the transfer window, Lee’s sentiment about the strength of his club’s roster hasn’t changed heading into the 2020 season. They’ll make their Concacaf Champions League debut Feb. 20 at Costa Rican club AD San Carlos, then open their MLS slate March 1 at Columbus Crew SC.

“I certainly think we’ve got one of the strongest rosters in MLS,” Lee said. “That’s always difficult to say now with teams making moves. I think we had one of the strongest rosters in the league last year. We’ve built incredible depth, quality depth that we had across all positions last year. That will be the aim again this year."