With Tottenham‘s latest Spursian stumble, Sunday’s Premier League games are shaping up to carry some weight.
Liverpool vs. Burnley: After Raheem Sterling netted a hat-trick in 13 minutes at 12 seconds after half-time, propelling Manchester City to a 3-1 win over Watford, the pressure is once again on Liverpool. Yes, they’re a heavy favorite (-650 / +650 / +1500) and at home vs Burnley, but this may be more difficult than you’d think. Burnley has been in better form of late (only two losses in their last six fixtures) and are under relegation pressure again after Cardiff City‘s win today. Anything other than 3 points for Liverpool and this title race may be over.
Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton: Has Sarri gotten the train back on the tracks? Hard to say but Wolverhampton will present a real test. Chelsea currently sit in 6th (although Tottenham has two games in hand, and Manchester United and Arsenal both have one). A win and they could move back into fourth (via goal differential) depending on how United and the Gunners wind up. A loss and their Champions League aspirations become significantly harder. They’re only -190 to win (draw +300, Wolves +600) so the odds makers don’t see this as a surefire win (although FiveThirtyEight has them at 71%).
Arsenal vs. Manchester United: Get this, if Manchester United wins, they move into third (although most likely behind on gd) with Tottenham. Oh how the pendulum swings! Arsenal wins and they get a leg up on a top 4 finish over United and Chelsea. Simply put, this fixture carries major UCL qualifying implications. Oddsmakers see it close (Arsenal +135, Draw +240, United +190). United has confidence after their advancement into the Champions League quarterfinals, and that +190 looks intriguing.
When the City Football Group, i.e. the Abu Dhabi United Group. i.e. Manchester City F.C. (they of recent financial fair play UEFA and Premier League investigations) elected to come to Major League Soccer, and selected New York City as the location for its team, it did so, one would imagine, with moments like Friday afternoon’s Media Day and 24 Hour, Soccer Never Sleeps event at Rockefeller Center in mind.
With a mini-pitch stationed above Rock Center’s iconic ice skating rink, in the very spot the world’s most famous Christmas tree towers each year, NYCFC seemed right at home amongst the tour groups, and tourists, business people, and passersby, in the shadow of 45 Rockefeller Center, a 21st century iteration of new money celebrating itself in this monument to a 20th century version of the same.
This event could be held in Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, or Whippany, New Jersey, where NYCFC rival Red Bulls train but it would be a different event minus the skyscrapers. For that matter, NYCFC could have invited the local soccer scribes and videographers, bloggers and the like up to its own Training Center in suburban Orangeburg, New York, but that is N.Y. and this team has always been keen to underline the C as in City, in its name.
Plus, where else would you stage a 24-hour soccer match other than in the City that Never Sleeps?
Catching Up with NYCFC New and Old
So, before the games kicked off several members of the team were made available to give their thoughts on their new club, their new role, playing without the former face of the franchise, and chief goalscorer, David Villa, etc.
I asked the new captain, Alex Ring, about the pressure of replacing the old captain, Villa, and Ring never flinched. “There’s no such thing as pressure and what other people say, the only pressure I gave is myself to myself. Otherwise, I just enjoy the moment, you know?”
“Yeah, trying to do my best – I think leading the guys out doing my duties out here but I don’t see it as pressure, otherwise I would be doing the wrong job, you know, you want to be in soccer – sports is pressure, if you can deal with it then I think I thrive more on the pressure.”
Ring scored a fine goal in New York City’s 2-2 season-opening draw last weekend, set up by expensive new signing Alexandru Mitriță, who will be part of NYCFC’s plan to replace Villa’s goals by committee. Gamely dealing with the press in English, the Romanian attacker said he enjoyed his first game with NYCFC, adding, “now, I make step by step. I want to score a lot of goal for this team. But we need to wait and I need time to make a lot of work.”
When Keaton Parks first appeared on the radar of the American soccer fan always on the hunt for the next big thing, the 6’4″ midfielder was working his way up the ranks in Portugal, from a small club called Vardim, then onto the B team of Portuguese giants Benfica, before a handful of appearances for the A team perked up U.S. based interest in the lanky Texan to the point where Parks earned his first national team call-up in 2018, the USMNT’s Year in the Wilderness.
Ultimately, those heady days did not last and Parks found himself back amongst the Bs with Benfica, leading the now 21-year-old, to accept a year-long loan with MLS and New York City FC.
So, why New York, I asked? “It’s just a good opportunity for me. I’m back in my home country and then it’s good division one soccer, so it’s good experience, and getting a lot of playing time it’ll be it’ll be a good, good step in my career.”
And how did the Plano, Texas native feel about getting that taste with Benfica last season, only to have it pulled away?
“Oh yeah, I mean of course I wanted to play with the first team but I’m just letting the pieces fall into place and now I’m here in New York City. So, I mean it’s working out, new stuff my career and now I’m here to focus on the MLS season.”
On Sunday afternoon, Parks and Mitriță, will make their Yankee Stadium debuts, while Ring leads the team out as captain for the first time in the Bronx. Last Saturday NYCFC blew a 2-0 lead and had to settle for an eventual 2-2 draw. It was difficult to draw conclusions about this team from week one, difficult to know what to make of this team.
On Sunday DC United come to the Bronx, and perhaps we will find out more about the post-David Villa, new New York City FC.