And now, his new manager doesn’t fancy him all that much.
After starting 24 of 34 games and netting 12 goals in his debut MLS season, Mitrita has curiously found himself on the outskirts under new manager Ronny Deila. He’s started five of 11 matches so far (zero goals, two assists) and has played just 63 total minutes over the last four matches (he didn’t get off the bench in the last two). Even club captain Alex Ring — normally a holding midfielder — is seeing time on the left wing at his expense.
Mitrita proved himself as a capable player last season, but Deila’s ambivalence toward him is a common symptom of a new manager inheriting players. While former coach Domenec Torrent was happy for him to play in a more free role, Deila doesn’t see it that way.
“What I need more from Mitri is — I need more in the box, we need more numbers in the box,” Deila said during a virtual press conference last week. “We need our wingers to come in there more so we get more help to Heber and Taty [Castellanos].
“It’s a tough competition and I need different players in different games. And the games [we’ve] had so far now have been suiting the team I’ve been picking.”
While Mitrita plays as a left winger at least nominally, he likes to drift inside and occupy central positions, often operating as an “inverted winger” coming on to his right foot — just take a look at where his goals came from last season. He’s certainly talented, but he may be the type of player who doesn’t fit well into the sort of stringent system Deila has brought to New York.
Per FBref.com, Mitrita has registered just 3.3 touches in the opposition penalty box per 90 minutes, as compared to 5.7 from Jesus Medina — his short and long-term competition for a spot in the starting XI. While Medina has had problems of his own producing an end product this season — he has just one goal contribution in nine starts — he definitely fulfills Deila’s vision of crashing the box and staying wide. Here are heatmaps of both Mitrita and Medina from a game they both started and played 60+ minutes against the Columbus Crew. Medina mostly hugged the touchline, playing more like a traditional winger.
Alexandru Mitrita’s heatmap against the Crew
Jesus Medina’s heatmap against the Crew
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But Mitrita’s bigger obstacle to the starting XI may be his work rate, which Deila hinted at towards the end of the same presser.
“And also when we have Ring and Jesus of course they are really, really good runners, and that helped the team defensively to be more structured,” Deila said. “So Mitri is a very offensive player. So it’s [about] finding a bit of balance between defending and attacking.”
While Torrent seemingly tolerated Mitrita’s lacking defensive work in exchange for his offensive brilliance last season, Deila is currently not willing to budge on his need for runners, at least in certain games. And Mitrita lags behind his midfield competition in that regard.
The Romanian has registered about 12 pressures per 90 minutes this season, per FBref, as compared with around 21 for Medina and roughly 19 for Ring. Encouragingly, Mitrita has actually improved from around nine pressures/90 last season, which suggests he’s at least slowly bending towards the type of player that Deila is willing to trust.
This still feels like a bit of a fork in the road for NYCFC (who face New England on Saturday), Mitrita and Deila. Does Deila really want to risk alienating one of his more talented players in favor of a system that has provided mixed results so far? Medina may have the better work rate, but he also has just five goal contributions in his last 29 league appearances. Sometimes, it is actually as simple as putting your best players on the field.
All coaches have their own ideas, but management is also about maximizing the talent at your disposal. NYCFC fans will be hoping Deila can make the pieces — namely Mitrita — fit.
A first win for Carnell
Interim Red Bulls coach Bradley Carnell earned a win in his second game in charge last weekend, and wasted little time making changes to New York’s lineup.
In the 2-0 win vs D.C. United, the South African set up the Red Bulls in a back three for the first time this season, restored Kaku to his favored central midfield role and gave Dru Yearwood and Mathias Jorgensen their first starts of the season (Yearwood joined the club as a designated player last month).
The changes seemed to work, with New York earning its first win since August and registering its-second highest xG total (1.9) of the season. The team had numerous chances to score a third, and looked more aggressive and inventive going forward than in most previous games.
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