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Portland Timbers - NYCFC Preview Interview

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We got in touch with Sam Dunn of Hudson River Blue to give us an early look at what NYCFC will bring to Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

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Sam Dunn of our New York City based sister site, Hudson River Blue, chimes in to give us some insight into New York City FC ahead of the Portland Timbers’ first trip to New York proper.

Stumptown Footy: First things first, can you give us an update on the status of David Villa after going off at halftime against the Philadelphia Union?

Sam Dunn: David Villa was not a full participant in training today [Saturday]. Per Brian Lewis of the New York Post, he's doubtful for Sunday's game, although he has not been officially ruled out. He exited Thursday's Philly Union match at the half due to a hamstring issue, which is separate from the nagging groin strain he's dealt with since the start of the season.

SF: Former Oregon State standout Khiry Shelton seems to have made an impression during the early goings of his rookie campaign in the Bronx, what do you think Shelton has to do to secure a full-time starting spot? Is he a viable candidate to challenge Adam Nemec up front, or does Kreis see him as a wider player?

SD: Khiry Shelton is one of the strongest fan favorites on the team, and is well on his way to being a regular starter. Given that he's only had four professional appearances, dude is way ahead of schedule. His recent call-up to the U.S. Under-23's feels like less and less of a surprise.

Opponents just don't know how to deal with him yet. He's tall and he's got wheels; it couldn't be easier to see. Jason Kreis has been quick to point out that he's far from a finished product, but his class is readily apparent. Adam Nemec, for his part, has played in front of Villa as a target guy, and I don't think Shelton is ready for that type of role. Then again, maybe Nemec isn't either! The Jockeyin' Slovakian's reputation among NYC fans is the exact opposite of Khiry's.

With Nemec up top and Villa shading to the left, Khiry made his first start on Thursday at his usual right wing. That new look produced one of the club's best starts of the year, and Shelton picked up his first professional assist on Mehdi Ballouchy's second-half goal. We can expect that the team will continue to shuffle things around until something really starts to work -- expansion team alert! -- and Frank Lampard's summer arrival will shake that up even more. We simply don't know all that much yet. In any event, something tells me that playing off Frankie will be helpful to Shelton's development, but the Beaver grad may not even need the help.

SF: Jason Kreis's narrow diamond midfield is unique in MLS and is a system that requires a great deal of tactical awareness. How do you think it's taking in New York City?

SD: Sticking with a similar format over the first five games, Kreis & Co. had no width, no crossing, and put too much pressure on Josh Saunders ("Mecha JoshZilla") and an ever-shuffling back line. First halves had been especially sluggish and uneven.

The diamond was reshuffled significantly on Thursday against Philly. NYC has been often plagued by empty possession -- their 55% possession rate leads MLS, but the team has one win in six tries -- so they attempted something new, and it felt a lot better. Khiry brought his motor, and Javier Calle superseded Jeb Brovsky at left fullback. Calle is a frequent overlapper who previously started against Sporting KC as an attacker. He helped left-side buddy Mehdi Ballouchy get comfortable for the first time in a sky blue shirt. I expect the experimenting to continue, especially as younger talents like Kwadwo Poku and Tommy "Mullet Man" McNamara get acclimated.

The center of the midfield remains in disarray. There's no Beckerman here, and Javier Morales isn't coming either. Andrew Jacobson has been given a monumental task at the base of the diamond, and he's done about as well as anyone could reasonably expect. Despite all his pleasing nasty streak and willingness to run up and down like a banshee, he needs some more help back there. Mix Diskerud wouldn't be any better in that role. Ol' Mixy has the work rate, but lacks the vision.

You can't think about the NYC midfield without thinking about Lampard, which is a bummer. During the loss to Sporting KC, it was conflicting to watch Benny Feilhaber dictating things out there for the Wiz-- New York City needs someone more-or-less-exactly like that. Maybe Yaya Toure will be available in the summer?