This time last year many had figured Orlando City and New York City would be among the best MLS expansion teams in league history by the end of their opening seasons.
While Orlando found their way to the fringes of the playoff race, New York City barely got out of the starting blocks. With 31 losses and a combined minus-19 goal differential between the two, to say 2015 was a disappointment is an understatement.
[ MORE: 2016 MLS Eastern Conference preview ]
In Orlando’s case, perhaps it was understandable. Yes, they had Kaka and veterans like Aurelien Collin and Brek Shea, but also a bunch of players making the jump from USL to MLS.
In New York’s case, it was disappointing. The club had started with a terrific game plan, composing a strategy from scratch with MLS wizard Jason Kreis. David Villa was coming, and Mix Diskerud was there while the team waited for Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard to arrive at Yankee Stadium.
After a win and two draws to start their season, NYC lost seven of nine. They thrice lost to the Red Bulls, lost to the Cosmos in the Open Cup and were streakier than a windshield cleaned by a four-year-old.
Optimism abounds this time of year, and there’s no reason for it to be any different for this pair of Eastern Conference sophomores. Here are five reasons the Lions and NYC will kick on this season.
1) Cyle Larin scored 17 goals as a rookie. He was 20.
The Canadian wonder played in 27 games last season and doesn’t turn 21 until April. The goals came in bunches last year, and the experience points to him learning how to find the consistency needed to avoid another 50-day goal drought (during which OCSC went 2W-4L-2T.
2) New York’s trio gets a proper preseason
It might sound silly to suggest that Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo needed to learn something about anything soccer-related, but playing on a postage stamp for your home field is an education. Those midfielders joined late in the season, and David Villa couldn’t do it all by himself (though he almost did).
3) And yeah, David Villa
The now 34-year-old Spaniard scored 18 goals and 8 assists, his brightest statistical year since the 2010-11 campaign with Barcelona. Yes, La Liga is plenty ahead of MLS, but Villa could be flying even higher this year.
4) A big San Siro reunion in Orlando
Kaka did just fine in his debut season in Major League Soccer, scoring nine times and adding 7 assists. He’ll be freed up a bit by the arrival of fellow former AC Milan midfielder Antonio Nocerino. Well-traveled but rarely used this season, he’ll be fresh when he hits the pitch for the Lions.
5) Vieira and his brand new defense
Patrick Vieira might be a new head coach, but he’s not new to organizing a team. That will benefit his brand new set of defenders including Frederic Brilliant, which in turn will benefit returning back Andoni Iraola.