Eye on Tactics: NYCFC inefficient early as RBNY industry outshines stars


Lead Analyst

In the third meeting of NYCFC and New York Red Bulls, the occasion was marked by the first simultaneous starts of NYC’s newest, international stars: Villa, Pirlo and Lampard. The match had polarizing elements pitted against each other, in NYCFC’s newly implemented talent with little time to gel contrasted by Red Bull’s industry and strengthening understanding of responsibility and shape.

The latter weathered the initial pace set by NYCFC, and outplayed the visitors on the day.rbny nycfc 08092015 lineup

As the home side, Jesse Marsch set out his standard 4-2-3-1 shape populated by trusted players who have been evolving within his system. In direct reaction to opposing shape and personnel, Lawrence stayed true to his defensive duties and sagged into the back four, more than usual, to account for Diskerud’s presence on his flank, and McCarty was chosen to be more disciplined in the #6 hole to account for Lampard occupying the #10 hole for NYCFC.

With probably the trickiest team selection Jason Kreis has had all year, the NYCFC skipper chose a 4-2-3-1 shape as well.

Jacobson was chosen to pair with Pirlo above the back four, as Diskerud was shifted wide to accommodate for Lampard’s attacking midfield role, centrally.

Can the Jacobson-Pirlo combination be successful?

Jason Kreis has no other option but to play Andrea Pirlo, and his job is to find the best location and potential partner for the Italian. Both Jacobson and Pirlo originally started quite flat and parallel to each other. This invited pressure from RBNY and crowded the distribution space that is so key to Pirlo’s game.

rbny nycfc 08 09 2015 klj pocketSince Pirlo is clearly not going to provide defensive dynamism, the partner or partners surrounding him must compensate out of possession with workrate and selfless acts of balance. Jacobson himself prefers to dictate tempo and check deep towards the ball in order to be the midfield fulcrum. This will not be structurally possible with Pirlo occupying the same space. Juventus rarely deployed a holding midfielder beside Pirlo to share the possessive load but usually had an inverted triangle with 2 skillful workers above him or a pinched diamond:

Spieverlagerung – Champions League: Juventus 3-2 Olympiakos: Champions League Nov 4, 2014
Zonal Marking – Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus: Champions League May 13, 2015
Zonal Marking – Juventus 2-1 BDortmund: Champions League Feb 24, 2015

RBNY dominant midfield rotation, Villa compensating by dropping too deep

By stubbornly maintaining a shape and mentality throughout the season, Jesse Marsch has fostered on field chemistry in the most dynamic area on the soccer pitch: the midfield. RBNY’s balanced midfield rotation was on display against NYCFC and the opponents couldn’t counteract it. Felipe and McCarty seamlessly compensated for each other’s bursts forward, with McCarty doing most of the holding, and Kljestan’s understanding of what space he needs to occupy to both receive the ball in dangerous positions and compensate for his wingers making tucked, internal runs were unmatched.

rbny nycfc 08 09 2015 4 v 3

Villa recognized this issue early in the match and frequently checked into his own half with the ball. His runs allowed him to see more of the ball, but in deep, ineffective areas as he condensed his teams vertical depth. There was no compensation by his wingers to balance his runs by occupying the space he would leave, as McNamara is used to tucking inside to combine and Diskerud is a stranger to life on the wing. Although Villa’s technical ability in possession, willingness to defend from the front with intelligence and work rate and scoring rate have made him one of the most individually talented players in the league, he has struggled to lead NYCFC’s line in isolation all season, and it was on display against RBNY.

RBNY’s spine in opponent’s half is becoming one of league’s best

Stemming from McCarty, progressing to Kljestan’s ability to float in between the lines and ending with Wright-Phillips’ nose for goal and ability to compliment various playing styles, RBNY has one of the best offensive spines in the league. As McCarty is relieved of the responsibility to burst forward beyond Kljestan and eventually Wright-Phillips, his distributive and positional strengths shine, and Felipe is free to affect the match in deeper areas.

rbny nycfc 08 09 2015 spine

As Grella and Sam vary when and where there runs are made – either pinched towards the shape or wide to draw out defenders – Kljestan is able to float above the opposition’s defensive line to replace wingers or provide the reference point from which the same wingers can make their runs off of. The small variations of the McCarty-Felipe partnership, how deep Kljestan plays and Wright-Phillips end point of his run now can be effectively tweak according to how the opposition plays, and it makes all the difference.

It was always going to be hard for Jason Kreis to figure out an ideal shape, especially in the midfield, to fit all of his new aquisitions. The Jacobson-Pirlo partnership crowded Pirlo and nullified Jacobson’s skillset, Diskerud was lost on the wing and did his best work internally, Lampard was insignificant for the majority of the match and looked off the pace, and Villa had to check deep into his own half to consistently find the ball.

The RBNY shape keeps progressing, the spine is growing stronger, but the back four was porous in the first 15 minutes of the match and NYCFC failed to capitalize. Both Lade and Perrinelle are concerns defensively against better offensive opposition, and could be worries moving forward. Jesse Marsh’s philosophy, shape and ability to motivate his team to commit to his ideals are starting to deserve coach of the year considerations.

  • Nick

    I hate saying this, but the Pirlo/Lampard experiment is and probably will be a flop when together on the field. In order to have Pirlo playing for you, you need to have your starting XI (see http://www.hudsonriverblue.com/2015/6/17/8794807/no-pirlo-please) While I agree that Vidal and Pogba were instrumental to him being successful and NYCFC has much much less talent than Juve, you got to have some belief that if put in the spot he should have been playing all along this season as the upper most central midfielder in the 4 – 4 – 2 diamond, Mix could have some success. Put then Jacobson, Calle, Hernandez (he played midfield for a while I’m pretty sure?) or Mac on the wings and stick Poku with David Villa. At this point the defense is going to be the defense were stuck with but they got to find a winning formula with the midfield. If their down by a goal, then go ahead and put a fresh legged Lampard in. But to have them all out there when they’re still learning the scheme is pointless.

    • nova

      Its going to be interesting to see how nyc builds its team year to year. City has been stockpiling young talent for a few years now and have some good young talent who will likely do well in MLS. If City loans them to nyc then they will probably come in July like this year, plus will they ever go after a younger DP like many in the league when they have such a big list of aging stars who may come when their BPL careers are over or can no longer contribute to City’s PL title run each year…

    • Coleman Larned

      The issue is if the NYCFC fanbase is willing to stick with the DP experiment. I think Kreis and the players are owed that, for the gall it took to bring players of such magnitude in – for the excitement and buzz that came with it. I also don’t think the Jacobson/Calle/Hernandez/Mix combo could hold a candle to the top midfield groupings in the league. So, if that is accepted, why not try to mix it up and find a combination of the stars you brought in?

    • TK

      I beleive our best shape is the one we put out there, but with players playing different roles. Mix should be on the right as he and Iraola (in their short time together) have shown good chemistry. Tmac on the left as he and Angelino have also shown good chemistry, but Tmac is also good at tracking back which is needed with an attack minded fullback like Angelino. Pirlo should primarily sit in front of the two defenders (but slightly to the right) to occupy the space left by Angelino and Tmac and Jacobson should be circling around Pirlo to act as a quick outlet on offense, and to put out midfield fires/act as a third(or fourth) defender to negate counters and allow the rest of the team to drop back.

  • twitter_stanmack

    “respoonsibilty to burst forward beyond Kjlestand”

    • Coleman Larned

      Right away sir, good catch.

  • Ulrich

    The inefficiency was with NYCFC’s finishing. Mix had a great look on his volley that went straight at Robles & Lampard was in picture-perfect position to shoot three times and muffed the shots. Better shooting and there would be less nitpicking of actual tactics. Could their defending in the midfield have been better, yes definitely and hopefully they address it in practice, but convert a shot or two and its a different game completely.

    • BleedingRed

      Teams don’t convert 100% of their shots into goals to win the match, unless you’re DCU once in a blue moon. It helps tremendously if a team can take more shots and from better positions. And even if a team only needed one goal to win there’s an easy way and a hard way to get that goal. The game is all about the triangles and Zone 14.

      • BleedingRed

        Maybe I should revise that to say there is a high percentage way and a low percentage way.

      • Ulrich

        On a normal night, 1 of the those 4 being scored would be expected, and 2 not out of the question (3+ would be considered lucky and/or being in the zone). Sunday night, the shooting was just poor.

  • slowleftarm

    Interesting article. Thanks.