With an international break over and nearly all players refreshed and ready to go, a healthy New York City FC returns to action Saturday against the New England Revolution, hosting the East’s top team at its secondary home of Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, at 7:30 p.m.
Here are five things to keep an eye on as NYCFC gets back to work:
1. "We've got a lot of goals coming our way"
NYCFC got its first look at its new designated player in the final match before the break when Talles Magno, 18, made a late cameo against LAFC, only to be pulled for tactical reasons following a late Nicolás Acevedo red card. That quick glimpse wasn’t a ton, but his reputation and early work in training alongside fellow Brazilian Thiago Andrade, 20, have those around NYCFC enthusiastically awaiting a chance to see the newcomers unleashed. The latest addition of loanee Santiago Rodríguez, 21, from CFG sister club Montevideo City Torque in Uruguay only has boosted the excitement.
"I think they’re going to help tremendously," said NYCFC defender/midfielder James Sands. "All of them are top players and they bring some things to the team that we really need. Talles, Santiago and Thiago all will be game changers for us and will help us rotate a little bit in the front half of the field. We’ve kind of had to rely on the same three or four guys. It’s a long season so we’re going to need a lot of fresh legs and that sort of thing, but they’re all special talents and I think we’ve got a lot of goals coming our way for sure."
NYCFC coach Ronny Deila is happy with the club’s newfound attacking depth and said his team has made the youngsters feel welcome.
"I have high hopes for them, of course, but at the same time, I need to be patient," Deila said. "They are young players, they come to a new environment, new country and they need to adapt to us and our style."
2. Alfredo's time?
Alfredo Morales has just one start since joining in April thanks to injury and a crowded midfield. There’s a decent chance that changes in the near future with a busy schedule and Acevedo’s red-card suspension for Saturday.
Morales, 31, told Newsday on Thursday that he came to MLS after a decade in German soccer with every intention of becoming a regular fixture in the starting 11, and now may be his time.
"I have to play, this is my mindset, I want to play every single game, every single minute, this is why I came here. Obviously, the first two games I was still trying to get used to everything, to the team, getting to know everybody, getting to know the style Ronny wants us to play and my role and everything. And then against Philadelphia I started the game, it was really good and then I got injured."
Morales, who returned to action as a substitute in the win over LAFC, praised Deila's demand for open and honest communication while working to address the workloads and development of both young and veteran players.
3. Sands across America
Sands may have a little bit more to play for this weekend than most matches. The versatile 20-year-old for some time has appeared ready for a chance with the U.S. men’s national team, but still awaits his first senior call-up. With Sands on the Gold Cup provisional roster and national-team rotation expected after a CONCACAF Nations League championship, now’s a good time for Sands to prove he’s ready for that shot.
"I would love to be called up. I watched all their games in the Nations League and it's definitely a top group of players, but I think I have some qualities that could really help out that group," Sands said. "It's ultimately up to [USMNT coach] Gregg [Berhalter] and up to that staff if they want to include me, but I think I've played well enough and I'd be ready to make that step up to the national team, so it's something I would be really excited for, something I'm looking forward to, but you know it's out of my control. So obviously I'm just gonna keep working hard with New York and as long as I keep putting in the work, then everything will be sorted out in the end."
4. Battle at fullback
NYCFC has flexibility and multiple options in most positions after the latest batch of signings, but there’s a 1-v-1 battle for the starting left back spot that’s been brewing for a while. Gudi Thórarinsson received much of the time early this season, with Malte Amundsen still adjusting to his new club. But, Amundsen may be ready for a starting run in that spot after his first full 90 in MLS just before the break.
Amundsen told Newsday he’s willing and able to play as a wingback or traditional fullback, or whatever role Deila hands him.
"It’s a journey and you have ups and downs, so for me it’s bringing my best to the team and we see what the needs are," Amundsen said. "I come here every day, training 100%, then I go home, come back next day and do my 100% again and then we’ll see where this goes."
5. Life without Callens
Centerback Alex Callens remains on international duty as his native Peru continues in the Copa América group stage. His NYCFC teammates and Deila acknowledged they’ll miss his competitiveness and are happy to see him live out a dream with the national team, but all believe those behind Callens are ready to help Maxime Chanot in defense, even if undermanned City chooses to stick with the three-centerback formation it’s used much of the year.
"[Sebastien Ibeagha] has done really good so far in this season, so that’s an option," Deila said. "We can also put James [Sands] there or play all three of them a three-back [formation]. And you have Vuk [Latinovich] coming more and more."
Noted Morales, "I think the biggest difference is going to be we have no left foot, that’s it, but I think we will solve this."