JAMAICA, N.Y. — They are the young core, a group of players want to play first-team minutes, but have been victims of a numbers game.
New York City FC coach Dome Torrent says often he can only play with 11 at one time, only have 18 on his gameday roster. For players who are regularly among the 19-24 on the roster, it means training days are the only times they’re touching the ball.
That’s what makes the US Open Cup special to them. There is no NYCFC second team, not yet, so the competition is the time to prove they deserve additional time. Yes, it’s win and advance, but it’s also win and play again for players like Keaton Parks, Juan Pablo Torres, Danny Bedoya and Justin Haak.
And that’s just what they did in a 4-0 victory over North Carolina FC in the fourth round Wednesday night at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University.
“That’s the beauty of the Open Cup,” reserve goalkeeper Brad Stuver said. “It gives guys who don’t get regular minutes a chance to show what they’re made of. This group has been training extremely hard for the past four months.”
Perhaps its a bond from shared experience or just an extension of their work on the training ground, but NYCFC’s younger players didn’t look like they had rarely played in game action this season.
“It’s easy when everybody’s good, everybody is talented, our technique on the ball. We’re all just comfortable with each other,” Bedoya said. “Even in training it shows and we translate it to the field and I think that’s what helped today.”
Torrent also credits the club’s current form — they have an MLS-best 10-match unbeaten streak in league play. That trickles throughout the squad, even to those who don’t play often.
“These kind of players for me played really, really well and the reason why is because the team is in top form right now,” Torrent said. “And when that happen, its more easy for the rest of the players to play. They have quality to play. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
More minutes, more praise
The youngest player on the field for NYCFC Wednesday night was also arguably the team’s most composed. Haak, a 17-year-old who is the third Homegrown in the club’s history, played in front of the back four, showed how comfortable he was on the ball and how comfortable he was in directing traffic as the deep-lying midfielder.
Haak credits the work at training, that he made his MLS debut in four minutes off the bench in a 5-2 win over FC Cincinnati last week and even playing at Belson Stadium before with the academy, for his being at ease in his environment.
“Every day we do a lot of passing and a lot of movement with each other,” Haak said. “We create chemistry there, also playing games with the academy. Sometimes when I need to get a game, it helps me be more prepared for this.”
Haak played the entire 90 minutes against North Carolina FC. He had 80 touches on the ball and completed 84.8 percent of his 66 passes.
“When I decided to play with Justin, it’s not because I want to show our fans we have a new player,” Torrent said. “It’s because he deserved to play and he will be important player, similar to Jimmy [Sands] last year. It’s the same feeling. I think he’s ready to play.”
Torrent suggested a similar course of action to Sands, who went on loan with Louisville City for a month a year ago, might be in Haak’s future.
Wednesday’s fourth round USOC match marked the first time NYCFC played a first team match at Belson Stadium, where the club’s academy teams play and train. And it won’t be the last.
The Cityzens put in to host a Round of 16 match and if they do when the draw is announced Thursday morning, that would again be played at the stadium on top of the parking garage in the middle of Queens.
Stuver lauded the atmosphere from the fans, who are right on top of you in a stadium that holds about 2,200.
“During warmup, during the game, even in the first half, I can hear him all the way down the field, but having them right on top of you. It’s fantastic,” Stuver said. “That’s the beauty of having like a small compact stadium. In Yankee Stadium, they’re up on the wall, which is great, they get a better view of the game, but when they’re that close, it’s it’s something special.”
Torrent also thanked the supporters, saying it wasn’t easy for them to come out to St. John’s on a weeknight.
But, if NYCFC host again, he wants them back — and then some.
“The atmosphere is good,” Torrent said. “I expect, if we play the next game here in the same stadium, we need them and they know that. I expect at least 2,000 or 3,000 supporters to come here and help our players.”