NEW YORK — It’s a stretch that would be challenging at any point in the season, but New York City FC’s upcoming run of three games in eight days is far from ideal at the start of the season while playing in cold weather.
So it begs the question that Ronny Deila other MLS coaches have had to ponder while trying to tow the delicate balance of the start of the MLS regular season and the Concacaf Champions League: When to rotate a roster and how much rotation is needed to get maximum results, all while avoiding costly injuries?
For some teams, like the New York Red Bulls, in each of the last two years, the answer was simple: Strongest lineup for CCL, heavy rotation for MLS.
But for this current stretch for NYCFC, which starts against Toronto FC Saturday (5 pm ET | TSN 1/4, ESPN+ in US) at BMO Field, continues Wednesday against Tigres UANL for a CCL quarterfinal first leg match at Red Bull Arena and ends with the home opener against FC Dallas March 14 at Yankee Stadium, the answer isn’t as clear cut.
“What we want, of course, is we want to play the team we think is the best all the time,” Deila said. “And we want to get relations inside the team so they know each other. And of course, if players don’t do their work or they are tired or something, we have to do something.”
The difference for Deila comes in the number of days between games. Four days is no problem. Three days or less, now that’s a different story.
“For me, it needs to be more than three days,” he said. “If it’s four days between, it’s not a problem. I think it’s just about if they train good, if they are healthy, then you have your job and if the team is winning, then we have to keep going.”
Deila backed up those claims with a largely unchanged XI from the second leg of the CCL Round of 16 win over AD San Carlos on Feb. 26 to the MLS opener at Columbus March 1.
That’s the same amount of time between the showdown against Toronto FC and the opening leg against Tigres, and the only big move Deila will have to make was forced on him with the suspension of center back Maxime Chanot after his early sending off in the 1-0 loss to Crew SC.
Deila could go with Sebastien Ibeagha, who returned to training Wednesday after suffering an ankle injury in a substitute appearance vs. Columbus. Or James Sands can slide back to defense, allowing Keaton Parks to return to the XI.
But going from an 8 pm ET start on a Wednesday against Tigres to a 12:30 pm ET kickoff against FC Dallas will present a problem.
“Then it’s almost two-and-a-half days from the Champions League game to the next one,” Deila said. “There, it’s going to be tougher.”
Of course, those are issues largely reserved for a technical staff and medical team. Players aren’t as worried about fixture congestion.
“In MLS we always play that way. I like it, to start that way and to play that way,” center back Alex Callens said through a translator. “I like it a lot because this way you get your rhythm a lot quicker. Our legs are like new so we can go for it.”