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NYCFC notebook: Team looking to take the next step in 2017 season

David Villa and NYCFC looked strong in their 2017 home debut this past weekend.Getty Images

New York City FC hasn’t lost a home opener in its three-year existence. And if last week’s opener showed anything, a dominating 4-0 win over D.C. United, it’s that City can be as dominant a home squad this year as it was on the road, last season.

And just as importantly, it appears City has eliminated any hangover from the way their 2016 season ended, when they dropped a 5-0 home decision to Toronto FC in the playoffs.

Midfielder Thomas McNamara said last season’s disappointment is in the rearview mirror and is excited at what the new-look squad has to offer.

“Obviously it ended disappointingly last season at home, but it was great to get back at it again at home in front of our crowd. It was good seeing them again and seeing them getting behind us from the beginning,” McNamara said. “Last season should [provide extra motivation]. We’ll find out how much as the season unfolds, but I believe it will because it left a sour taste in all our mouths. We want to be better than last year and compete for the championship.”

The journey for that championship began the previous week in Orlando. And while they lost 1-0 in its season opener, it seems to be more like an anomaly than the norm for this season, as head coach Patrick Vieira finally seems to have the players he’s always wanted to play his style. The sputtering in Orlando already seems so far away, as what City did to United in the Bronx was so dominant and crisp that the rest of the league should be on notice. NYCFC executed a complete victory, particularly reigning league Most Valuable Player David Villa, who notched two goals and an assist and essentially erased United defender Steve Birnbaum, who as a national team player is no slouch of his own. City controlled for 61 percent of the match, which could be a sign of things to come as the season unfolds.

NYCFC is leaner, faster, and perhaps even more comfortable with Vieira’s system than they were last year, and the holdovers have taken notice.

“It’s been great. It’s been a very short amount of [practice] time, so these things have to develop organically. You can’t force it or pretend that there’s chemistry when there isn’t,” midfielder Thomas McNamara said about the new pieces fitting. “But it’s come along great since all the new guys have come onboard about a week into the preseason.

It’s a natural process to learn everyone and it’ll take some time for us all to fully start clicking.”

New goalie Sean Johnson is one of those new pieces having to adjust to his environment. Johnson arrived in New York via a December trade that sent him from the Chicago Fire to Atlanta United, who then flipped the 27-year-old goalie to NYCFC in exchange for General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money. Johnson was solid in the opener in Orlando and pristine in his Bronx debut.

He embraces the challenge of playing in front of the New York crowd and giving the ardent fanbase, which includes the famous Third Rail section, lots to cheer about this season.

“I came from Chicago, which is a big city, too, but I’m looking forward to playing in front of this crowd and learning the ways,” Johnson said, adding he’s embraced all that comes with being the netminder for New York’s true soccer franchise. “There’s no real added pressure of being here, but I do accept the challenge of playing here and learning the guys, getting on the same page, and learning the system. Everyone here is committed to winning and confident. We’re ready to build on the foundation that was already here before we got here.”

City notes:

- Johnson said he has something to prove to doubters who note he struggles with playing the ball with his feet. It’s added extra motivation: “The common misconception is because a player over the course of his career doesn’t play a certain way that they don’t have the ability to do it,” reasoned Johnson, who added that he has played the ball well in past matches for then-U.S. National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann. “The coaches I’ve had in the past didn’t necessary want to play that playing style … You do what the manager asks.”

- Two other new faces, attacking midfielder Maxi Moralez and forward Rodney Wallace, also had great home debuts for City, as they each notched a goal and assist.

- Villa, who’s stated that he wants to stay with City, said he’s in talks with the club about extending his stay. The striker’s contract expires after this season, and even though he’ll be 36 years old by the start of the next campaign, he shows no sign of slowing down and the club seems open to bringing him back.

- Fellow Designated Player and legend, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, however, remains noncommittal for next season.

 
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