Hudson River Blue) No, not really. A lot — I hesitate to say a majority, but it feels that way — of New York City fans are new to Major League Soccer. To the extent they followed the league, they knew about the Red Bulls, obviously, and the Galaxy, and maybe Seattle and Portland, but beyond that, it was a blank. Put it another way: a casual basketball fan probably knows about the teams in their area, and maybe the top two or three teams, but that's about it. They certainly wouldn't know about the Milwaukee Bucks, for instance.
Your average NYC fan knows that Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, and Seba Velasquez played for Jason Kreis at RSL, and that he was pretty successful there. Add to that the self-regard that New Yorkers have for the city and its place in the world, and I'd be shocked if any of them looked at New York City FC as RSL East.
Which is a shame, because Real is the only MLS expansion team created from scratch that has had any kind of sustained success. New York City fans should be clamoring for Tom Glick, Claudio Reyna, and Jason Kreis to be studying and deconstructing how RSL has crafted that success.
Speaking of Kreis: there's a interesting mix of impatience and patience among NYC fans when it comes to him. Patience, in the sense that most people thought things weren't going to be easy in the beginning; impatience, in the sense that they think he's too loyal to certain players — particularly Ned Grabavoy — and too unwilling to start fan favorites — particularly Kwadwo Poku.
I think that completely ignores the fact that Grabavoy is a workhorse; prior to last Friday's game against Chicago, Grabavoy had played every minute of NYC's season. It also conveniently ignores that Poku, for all his potential gifts, is still incredibly raw and was essentially a cipher playing for the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks last season.
By and large, though, New York City fans have taken to Kreis. That's good! He's a fantastic coach. I think the bigger enemy Kreis has is time. Neither of New York City's owners — City Football Group and the New York Yankees — are noted for their patience or long-term vision. This is particularly true when you have sustained failure on the field. MLS is a particularly forgiving league, because of its roster construction rules, but those same rules practically force you to have a medium-term strategy, at the least.
Will Kreis get that time? That's an open question. I don't think it's a good sign, though, that people are already talking about him being under pressure to deliver results.
RSL Soapbox) How good is David Villa now compared to when he was playing for Valencia, Barcelona, or Atletico Madrid?
Hudson River Blue) It's easy to say "not as good", but that ignores the context. Valencia Villa was a young, precocious player; Barca Villa was an astonishing striker, operating at the peak of his powers, in what were likely two of the greatest club teams ever; and Atleti Villa was a consummate system player, clearly having adjusted his play by the gruesome broken leg he suffered at the 2011 Club World Cup.
The big problem in assessing how "good" Villa is — compared to, say, Kaka — is that he's playing with Patrick Mullins, Adam Nemec, Mehdi Ballouchy, and Mix Diskerud, as opposed to Koke, Arda Turan, Adrian, and Ruben Mesa. More to the point: New York City's midfield has been roundly ineffective, which means that Villa spends large portions of every game dropping deep to receive the ball, then trying to make something out of nothing. He's also spent a considerable part of this young season crocked with hamstring and adductor injuries.
That combination — bad players, purposeless midfield, and nagging injuries — means that assessing his worth is premature at this point in time.
RSL Soapbox) How is the atmosphere from a playing perspective as well as from the fan experience perspective at Yankee Stadium?
Hudson River Blue) The RioT — by dint of being an actual soccer stadium, where RSL and its fans are the primary residents — probably offers up a much better experience than Yankee Stadium. There's no getting around that, and I'm not going to argue otherwise. That's not a reflection on New York City FC; they're making the best of a bad situation. It's reality.
The ball simply dies on Yankee Stadium's grass, because it's not a uniform length. When a ball goes from the short grass of the temporary turf to the longer grass of the permanent outfield, it stops. That wreaks havoc on passing. I've lost track of how many times players have had to double back to get a pass, or defender have gotten a ball gifted to them.
Combine that with how tiny the playing area is at Yankee Stadium, and I think you've got to say that Yankee Stadium is probably one of the worst playing venues in MLS. I don't know how anyone else could say otherwise. It compels teams to move away from playing possession soccer to playing direct, "route one" soccer. There's nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it has to be acknowledged.
The fan experience is similarly challenged. We've written about how security organizations have responded to fan celebrations. It's been a sore spot since the beginning of the season, and every indication is that it will continue to be a challenge. Security officers inside the stadium crack down remorselessly on fans for doing things that would scarcely draw a raised eyebrow at the RioT.
That hasn't kept Yankee Stadium from rocking; but that's far more due to the fans than to anything inherent in Yankee Stadium, which has a deserved reputation for being a soullessly corporate sporting environment when the Yankees play there.
Unfortunately, given the byzantine politics of New York City, the Gotham Blues will likely be playing at Yankee Stadium for the foreseeable future. The latest proposal — a new stadium to be shared between Columbia University and NYCFC in Inwood, a quiet neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan — was roundly criticized. That forced the team to say that it was only a preliminary proposal, at best. And so it goes.
*Questions from Hudson River Blue to RSL Soapbox*
Hudson River Blue) What can you tell us about the status of Javier Morales? What will the RSL midfield look like if he remains sidelined with a concussion?
RSL Soapbox) It has been pretty quiet on that front, but all indications are that Javier Morales is not quite ready for a return. The protocol for a player returning to play after a concussion takes a lot longer than I ever would have expected. If in fact he is out for Saturday, I would expect Luis Gil to take over for him which he has done on multiple occasions. Before the season started, Luis Gil was given the number 10 jersey which I have been told is sort of a big deal symbolically. People have been saying for years now that Gil is the future of the club and seems the most likely to take over for Morales at that position long-term once Morales slows down so the more experience he gets now, the better. Gil will likely be accompanied by at least Kyle Beckerman and Luke Mulholland but the fourth player is hard to guess. If I had a gun to my head, I would say probably John Stertzer who has seen moire minutes this year.
Hudson River Blue) The high-profile homecoming for Jason Kreis & co. has been well-publicized. How do you evaluate life-after-Kreis so far in Salt Lake, and should we expect any particular kind of tribute or acknowledgment of the cup-winning manager at the Rio Tinto?
RSL Soapbox) I would not expect a tribute of any kind. It's hard to know how the crowd will react, but I think most will cheer him if given the opportunity. There is no denying that Kreis left his stamp on the club. I would say that if it were not for Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey, RSL definitely would not be where they are right now. They have been one of the most consistent clubs in MLS now for six years. Life after Kreis has had its ups and downs, but there were plenty of peaks and valleys with Kreis here as well. There have been a lot of personnel changes since Kreis parted ways and went to New York in the front office and on the field but the system and style of play has generally remained the same. RSL has struggled a bit to begin this season but I would argue that it is more due to injuries than to any sort of formation or tactical change.
Hudson River Blue) RSL supporters, especially at home games, have a reputation for being one of the most merciless and brash fan bases in MLS. Which words would you use to describe the flavor of RSL fandom, and what should the visitors expect to hear from the stands?
RSL Soapbox) Diverse. RSL's crowd consists of a lot of different groups that probably break stereotypes of what comes to mind when people come to Utah. It can also be a negative in that there are various supporters groups, probably six or seven (likely more), even within the confines of Rio Tinto. Visitors can expect fans to react to key moments in the game as well as a lot of razzing. RSL fandom has grown quickly since 2005 and it continues to grow in size and in undnerstanding of the game. It is now one of the loudest, most passionate environments in MLS.