Crooks’ Soccer Journal: Basic Defending An Achilles Heel For NYCFC



Tonight, the New York City Football Club will host Real Salt Lake on the final day of matches in Major League Soccer before the international break for Copa Centenario.

City is unbeaten in six of its last seven matches. On the surface, it is a positive development in the second year of the franchise. However, there are consistent, fundamental errors – akin to the characteristics of a season ago – that need detailed evaluation.

The 1-1 score line at home to Montreal and at Toronto could have been clean sheets. While the 7-0 drubbing at the hands of their geographical rivals, New York Red Bulls, was aggravating and embarrassing, the subsequent draw against Orlando City FC grated at the very fibers of fundamental soccer and the desire to win.

On Sunday, Kevin Molino scored in the 94th minute and the Lions flew back to the world of Disney with an unexpected point. New York City had a 2-0 lead on goals from Frederic Brillant and David Villa. Villa slipped and shanked a penalty that would have made it 3-0 in the second half.

With Kaka called into the Brazilian National Team for the injured Douglas Costa, his former teammate at the Sao Paolo Academy, Julio Baptista, scored two minutes after the Villa gaffe and the Lions had momentum.

Brillant, without explanation, allowed Baptista to turn inside the area and finish with a right-footed drive. Perhaps the Frenchman was confused by the positioning of his right back, Ethan White.

White, acquired in the off-season from Philadelphia to provide needed depth at the back, has offered consistent blunders that are fundamental to the game – and are costing his team valuable points in the Eastern Conference.

On the Baptista goal, White was positioned ahead of Brillant and shaped toward Molino who was serving from the opposite side of the field. Proper organization of a zonal back four dictates that White be level with Brillant with an open body to provide the ability to see the ball, the space in front of him and the mark to his right. Molino chose to serve a soft aerial to Baptista instead of a driven pass over White and into Carlos Rivas who had pulled wide to the blind side of White. White takes a late glance over his right shoulder but Rivas would have walked in on goal. Had White been in proper defending shape or recovered at the proper angle, he would have also been able to cover Brillant to potentially block Baptista’s near post finish.

At BMO Field, after the stimulating win at Portland, NYCFC was poised for another road triumph after Kwadwo Poku scored in the 16th minute. White was caught ball watching and positioned poorly which enabled ex-City defender, Josh Williams, the occasion to put a first time ball across to Will Johnson for the equalizer just before the halftime interval.

White never saw Williams. Checking your outside shoulder as the weak side defender in a zonal back four has been a commandment since the 70’s when it was first introduced by Ajax in Holland.

These details are not superfluous – they are essential.

White was also the culprit in a late April match at Yankee Stadium against the Montreal Impact. In a contest dominated by the home side, White lost his mark, Dominic Oduro, prior to a free kick service by Didier Drogba and Odura was alone at the near post for an extra time equalizer. There were no picks. White was simply on the wrong side of Oduro.

Elementary. Fundamental.

City head coach, Patrick Vieira, takes responsibility for these miscues. He claims that he has not properly prepared his side for those situations. Vieira will not publicly isolate his wrath on one player and rightly so. When a goal is scored, it is never just one individual responsible for conceding. I always rewind the film 30 seconds to identify corrections that could be made prior to any goal yielded.

White has played in a University of Maryland system that has produced a multitude of pros. He was the NCAA Freshman of the Year. He was a member of the U-18 and U-20 National Teams plus professional stints with DC United and the Philadelphia Union.

Still, at 25-years-old, White still does not grasp the rudiments of playing at the back. Ponder that. Do we hold his previous coaches accountable as well?

Vieira has defended White for lapses that are reprehensible and rewarded the Maryland native with starting assignments along the way. It is Vieira’s method to instill confidence in a player that he senses is vital to the cause.

It is time to remove White from consideration in the absence of Ronald Matarrita who will start at left back for Costa Rica in Copa America. Diego Martinez, Jefferson Mena and Shannon Gomez should move ahead of White on the depth chart while RJ Allen, an MLS Top XI selection last week, plays on the opposite side of the defense.


Andrea Pirlo released Kevin Molino in second half stoppage time of the Orlando City match last Sunday. Molino ran onto Cyle Larin’s headed ball across the box and New York City squandered another two points at home. Pirlo stood and watched as the man he should have been marking, drove a head ball past Josh Saunders in goal.

Vieira utilized only two of his three moves in the match. In retrospect, Pirlo should have been substituted in the latter stages. Poku and Mehdi Ballouchy were both available. While Andoni Iraola was the Man of the Match for NYCFC (in my opinion), City yearned for the midfield bite of Frederico Bravo (injured) and Mikey Lopez (suspended, card accumulation).

Attendance will spike tonight at Yankee Stadium – if only because of one man. Chris Wingert is back!

Wingert, who grew up in Babylon and attended St. John’s University, is a regular at the back for Real Salt Lake. Wingert made 25 appearances for expansion side NYCFC last season. He was class from start to finish. Wingert was traded to RSL just prior to the start of pre-season. He played from 2007-2014 at RSL and won an MLS Cup with ex-NYC coach, Jason Kreis, in 2009.

RSL was unbeaten in their opening six matches in 2016. They are 2-4 since, conceding 13 goals. Joao Plata scored four times in the first six games but has just one tally since – scoring late in the recent 4-3 loss at Columbus.

FIFA and IFAB have given Major League Soccer approval to experiment with Video Assistant Referees. Live experiments, where referees will communicate with the VAR, will not be in place until the start of the 2017 season. Until then, offline experiments will be utilized for training purposes.

Orlando City midfielder Kaka has been ruled out of Brazil’s Copa America squad due to a minor muscle strain. Kaka was called up to the Selecao last week and missed last Sunday’s match at Yankee Stadium.

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