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Top 5 Players in Europe Who Could Become NYCFC's Next Big Star

The fearsome trio of striker David Villa and midfielders Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo has stricken palpable fear into the hearts of MLS foes. Pirlo's unrivaled passing, Lampard's awareness, and David Villa's finishing have catapulted NYCFC to the top of the Eastern Conference. However, with David Villa, Pirlo, and Lampard clocking in at age 34, 37, and 38, respectively, head coach Patrick Vieira needs to think about life after the big 3. Should NYCFC once again dive into the well of European talent, here are 5 such players who could serve as NYCFC's next big designated player, differentiated in the rankings by both the amount of talent they would bring and how well they would slot into Vieira's system. 


#5: Samir Nasri, LW/CAM, Sevilla (La Liga) [On loan from Manchester City]

2016/17 Stats: 5 starts, 1 goal, 1 assist, 91.6% Pass Completion

2015/16 Stats: 5 starts, 8 subs, 2 goals, 2 assists, 93.3% Pass Completion

Rumor has it that Nasri is frustrated with having lost a place in Pep Guardiola's City lineup, and that he desires a move to China or MLS should he not be able to reclaim his spot. Should Nasri cross the Atlantic, Patrick Vieira would be getting a player equally adept as a winger or an attacking midfielder in the prime of his career. Nasir's biggest problem in his career has been consistency and health. Should he stay healthy, the coaching of Vieira should amplify his ability to distribute the ball from the wing, which would be invaluable for NYCFC.


#4: John Brooks, CB, Hertha Berlin (Bundesliga)

2016/17 Stats: 2 starts, 0 goals, 0 assists, 89% passing accuracy

2015/16 Stats: 20 starts, 3 subs, 1 goal, 1 assist, 84.4% passing accuracy

MLS has always had a curious relationship with American players. American fans want USMNT players to explore their options across the best European leagues, yet complain over the lack of star Americans in MLS. When Americans come to MLS, they are lampooned for turning down leagues of higher prestige and notoriety in Europe. However, luminaries like Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley have spurned Europe for MLS with positive results for both parties, and Brooks would be an ideal candidate to jump ship. Brooks' physical style, skill on set pieces and corners, and ability to distribute the ball to midfielders are all what NYCFC need right now. Vieira would be delighted to have Brooks swap one blue and white kit for another. 


#3: Carlos Vela, RW, Real Sociedad (La Liga)

2016/17 Stats: 4 starts, 3 subs, 2 goals, 0 assists, 78.2% Pass Accuracy

2015/16 Stats: 32 starts, 3 subs, 5 goals, 4 assists, 79.3% Pass Accuracy

Mexico's biggest star that isn't Chicharito, Vela seems like he will be tough to pry away from Spanish side Real Sociedad, as they would be demanding a very hefty transfer fee. However, many people said that very same thing about Giovani Dos Santos and Sebastian Giovinco, who are currently off to torrid starts with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Toronto FC, respectively. Should NYCFC splash the cash and pry Vela away from Spain, it would be a seismic move for the club. Starting as a right winger, Vela would push Jack Harrison to his natural left side and move Tommy McNamara to his original attacking midfield role. Just a couple years removed from 15 goals and 12 assists in La Liga, Vela still has a wealth of quality left at age 27, and would be a fantastic grab for the boys in blue.

#2: Daniele De Rossi, CDM, Roma (Serie A)

2016/17 Stats: 5 starts, 0 goals, 0 assists, 90.8% pass accuracy

2015/16 Stats: 26 starts, 2 subs, 3 goals, 2 assists, 88.9% pass accuracy

A one-club man who has suited up exclusively for Roma, the 33-year-old De Rossi has hinted that this upcoming season will be his last for I Giallorossi. De Rossi is still one of the best in Europe at his defensive midfield position, vacillating between a strong defender and a precise passer. For a team in NYCFC that plays out of the back, the ability to quickly win the ball and get it up field is imperative. Andoni Iraola currently mans the CDM spot. Though his defensive play is excellent, he can struggle to accurately thread the needle with his passes. De Rossi is an ideal candidate to step into the CDM hole and immediately produce. 


#1: Bastian Schweinsteiger, CM, Manchester United (Premier League)

2016/17 Stats: 1 start, 4 subs, 1 goal, 0 assists, 90% Pass Accuracy

2015/16 stats: 13 starts, 5 subs, 1 goal, 0 assists, 85.7% Pass Accuracy

The legendary German may be frozen out of Jose Mourinho's starting XI, but that is no reason to doubt Schweinsteiger's fitness or quality, as his fine performance with Germany in Euro 2016 showed. A defensive and/or central midfielder of the highest caliber, Schweinsteiger is by no means decrepit at age 32. As a player, he fits as a replacement for defensive mid Iraola and central mid Lampard or Pirlo. The amount of fanfare and the shockwaves that will be sent internationally will certainly be noticeable. Just a couple years ago, Schweinsteiger was the epitome of both a leader quality central midfielder. Bringing him to NYCFC would work wonders for both NYCFC and MLS as a whole.


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My Ideal NYCFC Formation

City Football Group owns NYCFC. They also own Manchester City in the Premier League. The similarities in the way they are choosing to acquire talent are almost scary in their identicalness. At first it seems as though they were indiscriminately tossing out expensive contracts, hoping the laws of probability would dictate that some players would live up to their deals. Now that the dust from NYCFC first wave of talent acquisition has settled and new coach Patrick Vieira's system is being implemented, the burning question around the team is what formation and combination of player will work best. The team is wildly inconsistent, and this inconsistency is, in my opinion, brought on by constant shuffling of the starting XI. This 4-2-2-2 formation will suit the team the best.

GK-Josh Saunders: 23 saves, 57.5% save percentage, 1.50 GAA, 2 clean sheets

Yes, I get it. Josh Saunders hasn't been himself this season. That being said, I see no better alternative at GK. If Eirik Johansen was truly as ripe with talent as many at Manchester City said he was, he would have earned playing time in Saunders' prolonged stretches of underwhelming performances. A veteran keeper who has bounced around this league, Saunders will hopefully get back on track soon.

LB-Ronald Mattarita: 0 goals, 1 assist, 790 minutes played

The young Costa Rican international has been nothing short of spectacular for NYCFC. He brings constant energy, versatility, and speed to a squad lacking all 3 of things at times. Mattarita logged his first assist of the season with a looping cross that Khiry Shelton headed in for a 2-0 lead against DC United. Mattartita has his eyes set on Europe, but for the moment being, NYCFC will gladly take him.

CB-Jason Hernandez: 0 goals, 0 assists, 900 minutes played

Acquired from the San Jose Earthquakes in the Expansion Draft, Hernandez has been rock steady at the back. The CB position has been the brunt of most of the criticism directed towards NYCFC and their disappointing inaugural campaign. Hernandez, while he has a tendency to make the refs reach for the yellow card, provides veteran leadership and above-average play at the back.

CB-Federico Bravo: 0 goals, 0 assists, 623 minutes played

Many would be quick to label Bravo a defensive midfielder. Vieira has deployed at that same position for a good chunk of the season. However, Bravo will drop down and shore up the back line way more often than he would look to advance forward with the ball. With Bravo being equally adept at both positions, I believe his physicality and aggressive mentality show that Bravo would be best used as a center-back.

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

RB-Andoni Iraola: 0 goals, 1 assist, 466 minutes played

Fans of Athletic Bilbao in La Liga hail Iraola as a club legend, as they should. Having made 516 appearances over Bilbao over a 12 year period, Iraola will go down as one of the greatest to ever put on that uniform. In his twilight years with NYCFC, he has proven that he can advance with the ball better than any defenseman on the squad. Vieira's style of soccer is predicated on the wide-backs advancing forward. Iraola ability to do just that, coupled with his excellent crossing skills and prowess with the ball at his feet should earn him a starting spot. 

CM-Frank Lampard: (2015 Stats) 3 goals, 1 assist, 733 minutes played

I root for Chelsea FC in the EPL. To me, Lampard is a transcendent figure. He was the backbone of my favorite club that was simultaneously one of the most successful in Europe. He rises above contemporaries like Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard. No one that has ever donned that iconic blue shirt and performed under the lights of Stamford Bridge has ever scored more than Lampard's 211 goals. That being said, Father Time has robbed him of much of his speed and his ability to stay healthy. If healthy, however, Lampard's superior field vision, passing skills, and finishing ability should warrant a starting XI spot, albeit in a more central role than the attacking midfield role he was accustomed to. 

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

CM-Andrea Pirlo: 0 goals, 1 assist, 775 minutes played

When I heard that Andrea Pirlo, member of the FIFA Team of the Year, perennial champion at Milan and Juventus, and frequent Italian national team member, not to mention the personification of cool and sophisticated, was coming to NYCFC, I was filled with equal parts childlike jubilation and bewildered confusion. Why would someone as accomplished as Pirlo with so much left in the tank come to MLS after a season that saw him reach the Champions League final and win Serie A? Pirlo answered my questions by serving as the glue that prevented the underperforming NYCFC midfield from falling apart. the raw numbers don't do Pirlo justice, as his impact on each game is undeniable. While he never was, and still isn't, particularly fleet of foot, he remains a world-class distributor and leader. 

CAM-Tommy McNamara: 2 goals, 4 assists, 751 minutes played

McNamara has been a bit of a jack-of-all-trades under both Jason Kreis and Patrick Vieira. Though an attacking midfielder, McNamara has played his best as a winger or wide midfielder. McNamara's role in this formation would be not dissimilar to his current role as an attacking mid that will can move up and play winger should the need arise. The stats back up McNamara's ability to change the game with a single burst of brilliance, as he has done several times this season

CAM: Kwadwo Poku: 0 goals, 0 assists, 169 minutes played

A fan favorite, Poku was a pleasant surprise in 2015. He scored 4 times while assisting 7 in a season where he perfectly epitomized the "super sub" role. He was also named to the MLS 24 under 24 list, and he received his first senior call up for the Ghanian national team. For some reason unknown to me, Patrick Vieira has frozen Poku out of the starting lineup, claiming he needs to "earn it." Is he being to hard on Poku? I think so, because I saw flashes of brilliance from Poku last year, and I'm dumbfounded as to why he is riding the pine this year.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

ST-Khiry Shelton: 2 Goals, 4 assists, 540 minutes played

Drafted 2nd overall, the 6'3'' striker and winger has the potential to reach superstar status, a bold claim echoed by captain David Villa and head coach Patrick Vieira. While he has played as a right winger for the majority of this year, I see him as more of a big, physical striker akin to someone like Diego Costa. This could also silence the clamors for someone to step up as a second striker opposite David Villa. His speed is almost unrivaled in MLS. When paired with his huge, physical frame, it serves as a nightmare for opposing defenses. Shelton can also, as we saw last week, use his body to head home a goal.

Shelton, along with the injured wonderkid Jack Harrison, are at the forefront of the youth movement that will need to carry the team when Pirlo, Lampard, and David Villa leave the club at the request of Father Time. If Shelton continues playing like he has this year, NYCFC fans have nothing to fear.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

ST-David Villa: 7 goals, 0 assists, 900 minutes played

You all knew this would be here. 

The leading goalscorer on the club and in club history by a mile, David Villa came into the MLS with a fantastic legacy in Spain. Villa starred for Valencia, and the clubs supporters hail him as a gift from the heavens. He won several trophies with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid afterwards. he is perhaps best know for his performance with the Spanish national team, where he scored 59 goals in 97 appearances. If David Villa was half that player, NYCFC would have been happy. Instead, Villa has evolved into arguably the premier striker in the MLS outside of Sebastian Giovinco. 

The only negative i can find with David Villa's tenure at NYCFC is that it seems that he is doing an outrageous amount of the offensive work. The lack of a second scoring option (though I believe Khiry Shelton will be that guy) has limited NYCFC. Some games, it looks as if David Villa is going by himself against another team. If a second scorer emerges, David Villa's superb tenure at NYCFC could culminate in some silverware. 

BENCH

GK-Eirik Johansen-0 starts. A decent, if unspectacular, young backup.

CB-Frederic Brillant-0 goals, 0 assists, 720 minutes played. The Frenchman has been wildly inconsistent. When he is on, he is a solid option. 

RB-RJ Allen-1 goal, 0 assists, 177 minutes played. Advances the ball really well for a RB, but lacks the experience and passing ability of Iraola.

CAM-Mix Diskerud-1goal, 2 assists, 489 minutes played. Mix is running out of chances, both with the USMNT and NYCFC. Short pockets of magnificence can't mask several games were he hurt the team instead of helping. 

ST-Stiven Mendoza-1 goal, 0 assists, 465 minutes played. Didn't have the impact many though he would to this point. Still, can provide a spark off the bench.

CM-Mikey Lopez-0 goals, 0 assists, 382 minutes played. Young player who has made some mistakes, but will only get better under Vieira.

CF-Tony Taylor-1 goal, 0 assists, 398 minutes played. Overcoming knee injury sustained last year. Vieira really likes him, even though I'm not in the same boat.

WM-Medhi Ballouchy-0 goals, 0 assists, 39 minutes played. Way less playing time than last year. Consistently average.


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