Armchair Analyst: NYCFC's surge
Most of the deals that had been more than rumored – ones that were actually pursued – didn't get done before the close of the transfer window last night.
This is the way every year, in every window. Some deals get across the line, and many (most) do not.
But the balance tilted more heavily in the direction of "didn't get done" this year than I (and everyone else) expected, and I'm not sure why. Maybe the addition of a seventh playoff team in each conference creates less of a sense of urgency to make a needle-moving deal early in the season, or maybe the addition of discretionary TAM just made it harder to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts – you saw the hoops FC Dallas and D.C. United had to jump through with regard to Marquinhos Pedroso, right? Maybe teams are hesitant to add new, larger contracts to the books with the new CBA coming next year.
Maybe it's any/all of the above, or none of it. This is the kind of thing that'll become apparent only in hindsight.
Nonetheless, some deals got done earlier in the window. Of the new arrivals who've already made their bows, you could argue that nobody's had a bigger effect on their team's fortunes than New York City FC's Brazilian striker Heber.
In his four starts the Cityzens have gone 3-0-1. In their previous 22 games across all competitions they went 4-9-9. He has 2g/2a in his four games. The immediate dividends in terms of the standings, the boxscore and the eye test are all apparent.
This is from his first start and is the best example of what he's doing out there that's changed the game for his side:
He makes that diagonal run across the opposing backline about 30 times a game, and you can see that he drags defenders with him when he does it (which happens even when he doesn't get on the ball). That simple bit of movement opens up space underneath for NYCFC's other attackers; Alexandru Mitrita in this case, but also Maxi Moralez, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Taty Castellanos have all benefited from more room.
It's not anything complicated, and the intricate, ball-dominant build-ups of the Patrick Vieira truly are a thing of the past now. But simplicity often wins in this game, and having a mobile, unselfish, productive center forward who can run the channels, finish and link play is about the simplest starting point there is for building a winning team.
The other part of NYCFC's turnaround is that Heber has seemed to have a calming effect on head coach Dome Torrent. The head coach has now mostly stopped his "tear it down and rebuild it every single week" ways, sticking to a low-block, counterattacking 3-4-3 (that often plays as a 5-4-1) over the past three weeks. Having a spare center back has given them more solidity in a spot where they needed it, and it's been worth sacrificing the extra attacker since the wingbacks on both sides (but especially Anton Tinnerholm on the right) get forward to good effect.
That's meant less exposure in central midfield and off turnovers generally. It's an approach similar to what James O'Connor has used in Orlando to pull the Lions off the bottom of the standings, and it's paying dividends in both places so far.