The David Villa era was bound to end some time, but that still didn't really prepare New York City FC for life without the star Spanish striker.
Villa has moved on to Japan, leaving NYCFC to rebuild without him, while also preparing for its first full season with head coach Domenec Torrent in charge. The Spaniard replaced Patrick Vieira last summer and endured a rough transition as he tried to adapt to coaching a squad he didn't build, and players who clearly didn't suit his stylistic preferences.
The inevitable roster purge took place this winter, but unlike past years, there were no superstar names brought in. Where the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and Villa were previously brought to Yankee Stadium, this time around NYCFC focused on infusing youth, both from outside the club and from the team's academy.
The team's marquee signing, Romanian forward Alexandru Mitriță, is far from a household name, but NYCFC is hoping he can have the kind of impact that can win over fans who will be thirsty for a new goal-scorer to cheer for now that Villa has left town.
How did New York City FC perform in 2018?
2018 finish: Second in Eastern Conference (16-10-8), lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals
Things started off so promisingly for NYCFC in 2018. A 5-0-2 start to the season had the team looking like a serious title contender, but Patrick Vieira's summer departure to Ligue 1 side Nice shook things up. Domenec Torrent started off well, but NYCFC struggled down the stretch, posting a 3-6-4 record heading into the playoffs. NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union in the first round, but fell to Atlanta United in a series that wasn't that close.
New York City FC's key offseason losses
Villa has joined Japanese club Vissel Kobe, and as painful as it was to see him leave, NYCFC can take solace in the fact the team had a fair amount of practice playing without Villa in 2018. NYCFC posted a 6-3-2 record when Villa wasn't available last season, a mark that suggests things may not be as bad as they first seemed when Villa decided to leave.
Overshadowed by Villa's departure was the loss of Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera, who was a force in central midfield when healthy. He has moved on to La Liga side Huesca, where he has already begun to make a good impression.
NYCFC also bid farewell to midfielders Rodney Wallace and Tommy McNamara, while parting ways with striker Jo Inge Berget.
New York City FC's key offseason additions
Alexandru Mtrita is a being dubbed as a potential Romanian Sebastian Giovinco, giving NYCFC another quick and skilled attacking threat. He won't replace David Villa as NYCFC's lead striker — the team is still shopping for pure striker — but Mitrita is versatile enough to set up on either wing, and also as a false nine.
American midfielders Keaton Parks and Juan Pablo Torres are two highly-skilled passers who give NYCFC depth in the box-to-box midfield role, and will both pushing for playing time in 2019.
NYCFC also added Tony Rocha from Orlando City. The versatile midfield can provide depth at multiple positions, including as a defender.
First-round 2019 draft pick Luis Barraza is a goalkeeper for the future while homegrown player signing Justin Haak is a 17-year-old prospect with a bright future.
Full New York City FC roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Luis Barraza, Jeff Caldwell, Sean Johnson, Brad Stuver
Defenders: Kwame Awuah, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Sebastien Ibeagha, Ronald Matarrita, Joe Scally, Ben Sweat, Anton Tinnerholm
Midfielders: Daniel Bedoya, Justin Haak, Jesus Medina, Maxi Moralez, Ebenezer Ofori, Keaton Parks, Alexander Ring, Tony Rocha, James Sands, Juan Pablo Torres
Forwards: Valentin Castellanos, Jonathan Lewis, Alexandru Mitrita, Ismael Tajouri-Schradi
New York City FC's projected starting lineup
There is a lot that still needs to be sorted out about NYCFC's starting lineup, even as the season prepares to kick off. The biggest question is who will be the team's target striker. A transfer acquisition is supposed to be on the way to help address the void, but for right now Valentin Castellanos is the lone true striker option.
Torrent could choose to play with two forwards, or a false nine, which would likely mean Ismael Tajouri-Schradi getting a chance to start.
The battle for the starting left back role is another contest still up for grabs, with Ronald Matarrita and Ben Sweat locked in a close race. Matarrita's attacking quality should give him the edge, but Torrent could choose to move him up into an advanced role.
Maxi Moralez and Alex Ring should make up two third of the midfield triangle, but the third spot is very much up for grabs. Ebenezer Ofori has the experience, but Torrent is a big fan of U.S. U-20 midfielder James Sands, who could push his way into a starting role in defensive midfield.
New York City FC's national TV coverage
Orlando City vs. New York City FC - Saturday, March 2, at 2:30 p.m. ET on Univision
New York City FC vs. Los Angeles FC - Sunday, March 17, at 3 p.m. ET on FS1
Minnesota United vs. New York City FC - Saturday, April 13, at 5p.m. ET on ESPN2
D.C. United vs. New York City FC - Sunday, April 21, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
LA Galaxy vs. New York City FC - Saturday, May 11, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
Chicago Fire vs. New York City FC - Saturday, May 25, at 3:30 p.m. on Univision
New York City FC vs. Portland Timbers - Sunday, July 7, at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1
New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC - Sunday, July 14, at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1
New York City FC vs. Sporting Kansas City - Friday, July 26, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1
Atlanta United vs. New York City FC - Sunday, August 11, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls - Saturday, August 24, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
New York City FC vs. New England Revolution - Saturday, September 7, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision