Last summer it didn't seem like too much of a stretch to see New York City FC as a full-blown MLS Cup contender, if not favorite. David Villa was scoring in bunches, the midfield was clicking, and the defense was holding up well.
Then a slump came at the worst possible time, with NYCFC managing just one win in its last seven regular season matches before being eliminated by a red-hot Columbus Crew side in the Eastern Conference playoff semifinals. That sudden slide, and premature exit cast a shadow over what had the makings of a special season.
The reality is NYCFC still finished with the second best record in the league, even with the late-season swoon, and Patrick Vieira's club has been aggressive in revamping its roster to try and close the gap on a Toronto FC squad widely regarded as the best to ever play in MLS. Vieira enters his third season in charge, and finds himself with the deepest and strongest team he has had in New York since his arrival.
With key additions like Jesus Medina and Anton Tinnerholm, NYCFC will once again be a title contender, and David Villa and his squad have the weapons to finish the job they fell short of accomplishing a year ago.
How did New York City FC perform in 2017?
2017 finish: Second in Eastern Conference (16-9-9), lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals
Few teams in MLS were more dangerous when in top form than NYCFC, and Patrick Vieira's squad hit a good stride during the summer months, posting a pair of wins against the New York Red Bulls, while also defeating the Seattle Sounders. Yankee Stadium was a fortress, with just two losses out of 17 matches. A late-season slide saw the team manage just one win in its final seven regular-season matches, form that proved costly in the playoff loss to the Crew.
New York City FC's key offseason losses
Jack Harrison enjoyed a breakout 2017, and figured to be a big part of NYCFC's plans this season, but that was before interest in his services reached a fever pitch in England. Manchester City's transfer acquisition of Harrison sets up NYCFC to land a significant transfer windfall if he is sold again this summer.
Harrison is the only key starter who left the team this winter. Defenders Ethan White and Frederic Brillant saw significant minutes last season, but that was more down to injuries. They are both gone, as are forwards Sean Okoli and Khiry Shelton, with Shelton having been traded away after having been the first draft pick in NYCFC history.
Andrea Pirlo retiring wasn't exactly a surprise, and as much as the Italian legend was beloved by fans, he provided little in 2017.
New York City FC's key offseason additions
Young Paraguayan winger Jesus Medina arrives with plenty of hype as one of the better young prospects in South America. The 20-year-old steps right into the starting right wing role vacated by Jack Harrison, and NYCFC will be banking on that swap being an upgrade.
A move that could be just as important, but isn't generating much attention, is the signing of Anton Tinnerholm. The reigning Swedish League defender of the year steps in and provides a significant upgrade at right back, a position NYCFC filled with patchwork solutions last season.
Revamping the team's forward depth was a priority, and Swedish striker Jo Inge Berget will be called on to provide support behind David Villa. Ismael Tajouri offers some depth on the wings, while former VfB Stuttgart Ebenezer Ofori will offer a strong challenge to Alexander Ring and Yangel Herrera in the defensive midfield slots.
Benin international Cedric Hountondji steps in and gives NYCFC some needed depth in central defense, while Saad Abdul-Salaam arrives from Sporting Kansas City to provide depth at right back.
Full New York City FC roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Jeff Caldwell, Sean Johnson, Andre Rawls, Brad Stuver
Defenders: Saad Abdul-Salaam, Kwame Awuah, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Cedric Hountondji, Ronald Matarrita, Ben Sweat, Anton Tinnerholm
Midfielders: Yangel Herrera, Thomas McNamara, Jesus Medina, Maxi Moralez, Ebenezer Ofori, Alexander Ring, James Sands, Rodney Wallace
Forwards: Jo Inge Berget, Jonathan Lewis, Ismael Tajouri, David Villa
New York City FC's projected starting lineup
From a talent standpoint, there are few starting lineups in the league as balanced as NYCFC's, but what stands out this year compared to last year is the depth the team has added at multiple positions. Left back Sweat and right back Abdul-Salaam could start for some teams in MLS, but they are the backups on a team with two international starters.
Bringing back Herrera for a second year was huge, with the Venezuelan having impressed in his first season. He will have some competition for playing time with veteran midfielder Ofori.
An injury-hit season left Matarrita on the sidelines for most of what was supposed to be a breakout season, but it was instead a big year for Sweat, who thrived in Matarrita's place. Now fully healthy, Matarrita should retain his former job.
Another area of depth that Vieira will love is at forward, where Norwegian striker Berget should give his coach the option to play him alongside Villa, as well as allowing Villa to cut down some of his minutes to keep him fresh for the full season.
Former first-round pick Lewis should some impressive flashes as a rookie in 2017, and it will be interesting to see how he develops, and if he can push for more minutes.
New York City FC's national TV coverage
Sporting Kansas City vs. New York City FC - Sunday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1
New York City FC vs. Orlando City - Saturday, March 17, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
San Jose Earthquakes vs. New York City FC - Saturday, March 31, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Atlanta United vs. New York City FC - Sunday, April 15, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
Portland Timbers vs. New York City FC - Sunday, April 22, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC - Saturday, May 5, at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
Los Angeles FC vs. New York City FC - Sunday, May 13, at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1
Houston Dynamo vs. New York City FC - Friday, May 25, at 9 p.m. ET on UniMas
New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, July 8, at 7 p.m. ET on FS1
Orlando City vs. New York City FC - Thursday, July 26, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Seattle Sounders vs. New York City FC - Sunday, July 29, at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
Toronto FC vs. New York City FC - Sunday, August 12, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls - Wednesday, August 22, at 7 p.m. ET on FS1
New York City FC. vs. D.C. United - Saturday, September 8, at 3:30 p.m. ET on UniMas