The most recent international break has been kind to New York City FC and a critical cog who has yet to play for his coach.
The Cityzens were the only Major League Soccer side to play two matches during the last international “break,” so now are in the second week of a three-week respite from MLS activity.
“That is good news for us,” head coach Dome Torrent said after Thursday’s training session. “It’s the first time we don’t miss any players for the MLS. What’s good for us is we recover some players. (David) Villa and Maxi (Moralez), in the last game they had discomfort. They are training really well.”
So is Yangel Herrera.
Originally deemed out for the season after suffering an ankle injury May 25, Herrera participated in full training and had the appearance of a player ready to compete again. The Venezuelan international is in week three of unfettered training.
Herrera is in the second year of a two-year loan from Manchester City. On June 7, New York City reported Herrera would miss the remainder of the 2018 season following arthroscopic surgery. He was deactivated — thought to be a likely conclusion to his NYCFC career.
However, the 20-year old healed ahead of schedule and was removed from the disabled list. He is eligible for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
“I feel great to be back on the field after being injured for so long,” Herrera told Pro Soccer USA through a translator. “It was terrible for me. My ankle feels great. I don’t feel any pain after the injury. The only thing left for me is to work and get with the team to play these last couple of matches.”
Torrent said the plan is to ease Herrera back into the squad for the final two regular-season games at D.C. United Oct. 21 and home versus the Philadelphia Union Oct. 28.
“I expect he can play maybe 15-20 minutes the next game,” Torrent said. “He looks really good right now, which is good news for us because you know how important this player is for our team.”
Torrent replaced former coach Patrick Vieira June 24, so he has not had the luxury of devising a gameplan with Herrera in the lineup.
“Maybe we change if Yangel is ready to come back,” Torrent said. “In my opinion, Yangel is much better when we play with a double 6 (holding midfielder). Maybe we play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with a double 6.”
The preferred holding midfielder next to Herrera is MLS All-Star Alex Ring. The playmaker in the group is Moralez, who has eight goals and 15 assists. In two seasons, the trio of Herrera, Ring and Moralez started only 16 matches (9-2-5) together with two defeats.
In the 26 matches Herrera has started in his career, New York City averages 2.08 points per match. City has a mean of 1.34 points in the 35 games he has missed over two seasons.
Herrera still needs time, and his response in the final regular-season matches could set the tone for a knockout round playoff match.
“He’s fit from the injury, but it’s about the rhythm and it’s about what happens on the field,” Torrent said. “It’s my feelings and his feelings, as well. If he’s ready, he has 90-percent possibility to play in the playoff – but we have to watch the next two games.”
Herrera feels certain a start in a playoff match either Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 is a strong possibility.
“I believe the next game I’ll have a few minutes, if not more,” Herrera said. “And for the playoffs, I should be at 100 percent.”
“It’s good news for us,” said Torrent, who hinted that the 15 players training this week will be part of his squad for the road match at Audi Field. Six players are currently away on international duty.
“Next week, we start training about the tactics against D.C.,” Torrent said. “I prefer to play with the players who stay here in New York. I prefer to start with these players. These players are all ready to play 90 minutes, except Yangel.”