NYCFC, Kwadwo Poku

New York City FC has a Kwadwo Poku problem

Nobody gripped the New York City fan base last year quite like the Ghanaian, Kwadwo Poku. His undeniable athleticism was a welcome sight when compared to the often lackadaisical-looking antics of other, higher-profile players. Any time something went wrong, Yankee Stadium erupted with chants of “We Want Poku.”

This year, those chants have gone unanswered.

Despite scoring four goals and adding six assists last season in just six starts and 21 substitute appearances, it is pretty clear that his lack of tactical aptitude does not appeal to new head coach Patrick Vieira, who has instead opted for Tommy McNamara, whom he refers to as a very astute and intelligent player.

On the surface, Vieira’s system seems to have plenty of opportunity for Poku. With three at the back and three up front, the former Arsenal Invincible has a quad of midfielders in the center of the formation that need to put in extra work to help on the defense and the attack.

Poku is an athletic masterclass, albeit a bit rough around the edges. Still, given the rather mediocre start to NYCFC’s second season, adding a little chaos into a system that is going stale wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

Patrick Vieira begs to differ.

“It’s all depending on how he works in training. If he works well in training, if he works hard in training, he will have a chance.” He went on to point out exactly what everyone had already figured out, that getting acclimated to the tactical system that NYCFC is running has been rather difficult for Poku.

Poku has started just one game this year. He played 77 minutes. That was only because Mix Diskerud was on international duty. It wasn’t a poor showing for Poku, as his influence was spotted all over the pitch. In fact, you could argue that he blended in rather well. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Poku made his killing last year by doing his own thing – not to the point of it being detrimental, just to the point of being unpredictable. Within this new tactical extravaganza in New York, that has not been welcome and so long as he can’t acclimate to the new system, Poku will continue to hear the crowd chanting his name and there will be nothing he can do about it.

New York City is still learning their own identity, and that doesn’t help Poku’s cause either. Last year was a chaotic mess, as Lampard came and went and Pirlo showed up midseason. The only constant was David Villa, whose passion deserves so much commendation.

This year is a continuation of that experiment with a new added variable – Vieira’s creativity. Instead of building off of what Jason Kreis built, he completely revamped the system. It’s almost as if the team is starting over for the second time. But you can’t take away the chemistry these guys had, and Poku had it with the two stars that are commanding the most respect – Villa and Pirlo.

“[He] did a fantastic job,” Villa said of Poku at the tail end of last year. Pirlo built off of that praise with some of his own. “He is a player I did not know before. He has incredible physical strength and he is growing so well and so much. He works very hard and he will continue to do so and grow.”

It’s not the end of the world by any means, but Poku can give NYCFC a dose of unpredictability, something that their system could use a bit of.