The 2016 season will certainly bring a lot of challenges for NYCFC. Will Patrick Vieira adapt to the MLS‘ unique league format? How improved is the defense? Is this club good enough to make the playoffs? One challenge in particular I’d like to focus on is how will the 2016 season fair for Khiry Shelton.
Shelton exploded onto the NYCFC stage, coming off of the bench, he knew how to make defenders uncomfortable with his ridiculous speed. Of the 14 games I attended last season, one game I definitely will never forget was the home opener. It’s a play from that game that sticks out in my mind, on the field for less than a minute, Shelton used his pace to chase a ball behind the New England Revolution defenders and was taken down.
The play resulted in a straight red card for the New England defender. It’s what that play did to that game and possibly, what Shelton can bring to this club on a weekly basis.
Prior to that play, New England, although a goal down, controlled all of the possession and chances on goal. Shelton’s pace caused a spark that eventually led to the second goal in a 2-0 victory. It seemed to be week in and week out Shelton was coming off of the bench and igniting a spark in the offense that was missing with out him.
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The fans were calling for him in the starting line up and it was only a matter of time before ex-head coach Jason Kreis placed him on the attacking wing of his 4-2-3-1 formation. But then something happened, and when Shelton was sidelined with an MCL knee injury, that spark was missing.
When Shelton returned, with the exception of a few moments, he struggled to get back into the form prior to the injury. The pace running at the defense wasn’t there as much.
With the acquisition of Jack Harrison, emergence of Kwadwo Poku, return of Tony Taylor and rumors of bringing on another attacking player, it’s safe to say there is going to be pressure on Shelton to preform this season.
During preseason (returning from USMNT camp), Shelton is the most likely favorite to feature as an attacking winger in Vieira’s 4-3-3 formation. The first thing I will be looking at when assessing his play this season is the speed, if he’s fully fit, how much of an impact has the injury had on him? This is huge in my opinion, you can’t coach speed and Shelton made defenders life a living hell with it at the beginning of last season.
Pressure is not always a negative thing, pressure makes diamonds and shows progression. There is depth in this club and players competing for their jobs, this type of attitude will bring the best out of the players and I will not be surprised if we see the best out of Shelton this season.