Bear with me for a moment, if you please. What if, for one weekend at least, New York City was the center of the world?
NYCFC and Red Bulls both host this weekend, with Sporting heading to Harrison on Saturday (Sirius 85, Internet 85) and Chicago going to the Bronx the day after (Sirius 85, Internet 85). They’re two matches that are going to be wildly entertaining for two very different reasons.
Sunday’s affair probably gets top billing, and for good reason. Yankee Stadium’s own have the highest number of total goals (for and against) in all of MLS. Patrick Vieira’s baby blues are gunslinging rather, ah, unconventionally The coach is getting most of the press for his anachronistic W-M formation and for being Patrick Vieira, but it wouldn’t work – and by “work” I mean produce middling results so far – without this man: the internet’s own Tommy McNamara.
Standing at 5’9” and at a gentleman’s 170 lbs., McNamara has become a star in a system made for other people. Sure, Pirlo’s passes are incisive and David Villa is a danged wizard in the box, but McNamara has turned himself into a sort of connective glue. He’s creative and dogged in equal measure, doing dirty work and curling in great balls. McNamara isn’t quite a true number 8 because he doesn’t have the speed to go box-to-box. But in the NYCFC formation and in Yankee Stadium’s tiny field, the 25-year-old doesn’t have to be. He just competes and keeps the offense together like duct tape.
Now after saying all of that, why hasn’t Lord #DadBod led his team to glory? Because they’re still without a defense or much of an identity. Frank Lampard can’t be a talismanic force watching the game from the suites, which he will do for the fifth straight week. And Chicago, which came up short to NYC 4-3 in their last go around, can give an undisciplined side fits. Velko Paunovic is terrifyingly discussing respect and self-image going into the weekend, saying “our honor is hurt,” after losing once and that “we feel like we have something there that we want to solve, like a payback.”
That should scare the bejabbers out of New Yorkers. Tommy McNamara versus a ticked-off Serb doesn’t sound like a fair fight. But Tommy McNamara against the haters, writ large, has been the story of the city so far.
Across the Hudson River, the New York Red Bulls will continue grasping for momentum, or at least a defender. They’ve given up nine goals, tied for worst in MLS, and still miss Matt Miazga. The US Men’s National Team selection got his first start for Chelsea last week and in general doesn’t seem to be missing the NJ Transit stops, Red Bull Arena or Harrison, NJ all that much.
The Red Bulls’ one win came when they still managed to give up three goals, and they haven’t scored in their other three matches. They look really bad, even with the same midfield engine that won them the Supporters’ Shield last year.
But missing Miazga is one of the biggest storylines of the season so far. The Original New Yorkers have been hapless and injury-ridden, and are now missing Felipe after an iffy red card call last week. Their match against a Sporting KC team missing a couple key players themselves (Matt Besler and Brad Davis) could be bad. It might even get ugly if Dom Dwyer finds himself with space in the box all evening against some third-string defenders.
That’s not to say the match won’t be important. The Red Bulls are going to come up for air eventually in this parity-driven league, so it’s an open question to how far they’re going to have to travel to do so. The team has never in its history played well with a target on its back, and 30 weeks is an awfully long time to play rope-a-dope. As for Sporting, well, every point counts in the Western Conference. They’d relish putting a beating on an Eastern team, since they know all their main rivals will. The mid-westerners may even come out with some Paunovic-level ferocity.
The rest of the league games…
In the rest of the league, the most exciting matches are Houston aiming its surprise laser towards the Seattle Sounders’ very beleaguered defense and the Mountain West street fight where Real Salt Lake will either go up early on Colorado or see the match devolve into some 8v9 grotesqueness at high altitude. With red cards becoming an early-season talking point – and with two cussed teams playing defensive soccer – the rivals could get really nasty. It may be best to go to bed early and wake up to see the Dynamo paint Seattle black and orange.
But the West Coast might as well be a different continent from the MLS this weekend. All eyes are on New York, to see what sort of madness may break out. But never mind the men in the sport jackets, Tommy McNamara is ready to take the limelight. May it shine from his greasy hairband down to his concrete feet.
This post was composed by soccer know-it-all and swell guy, Asher Kohn. Reach out to him and discuss all the soccer happenings from around the world on Twitter at:@AJKhn.
Music, Sports, News and more
All in one place on the SiriusXM app