Eye on Tactics: Isolation of Villa, Diskerud, Shelton expose NYCFC at RSL

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by COLEMAN LARNED
Lead Analyst

Jason Kreis returned to Rio Tinto stadium and hoped to break down a formation and style that he instilled into Real Salt Lake, but his NYCFC failed to retain possession in advanced areas of the pitch and only fashioned a single shot on target.nycfc rsl may 25 2015 formation

Kreis indicated a 4-4-2 formation on the team sheet he submitted in pre-game, but in actuality, his NYCFC defended as a 4-4-1-1 and offensively shifted to a 4-2-3-1-1. Mullins dropped into a midfield slot to compensate for Beckerman’s possessive qualities and Diskerud played above Jacobson in a #8 role, allowing Jacobson to attempt to shield the back 4.

Jeff Cassar, head coach of Real Salt Lake, deployed a 4-3-3 formation and created the familiar diamond midfield shape that Kries coined in his time at the club. Beckerman pivoted as a #6, responsible for offensive tempo and defensive solidity, and the physical tandem of Sandoval and Saborio combined above the midfield point.

Immediately from the kick-off, NYCFC relinquished the competition for possession, but chose to deny certain players on the ball. It was obvious that Kreis was happy to let RSL maintain the ball deep in their own 1st and 2nd phases, as long as Kyle Beckerman was involved as little as possible. To achieve this, Mullins dropped in behind Villa to the pocket of space Beckerman likes to occupy in order to direct the opposition’s intention.

The isolation of three specific NYCFC players lead to the demise of the team shape and their offensive effectiveness: Diskerud, Shelton and Villa. Arguably the three most important players for NYCFC in this lineup, all were left ‘on an island’ as a product of the formation and how it was executed on the pitch.

  1. Diskerud. Less obvious in casual observation, Mix was isolated by the responsibilities he was – and constantly is – tasked with. He was expected to bear the workload of a box-to-box #8 midfielder, filling gaps and providing support wherever necessary, be the creative edge in the meeting of their 3rd and 4th phases and drop above the back four frequently to be the catalyst in possession. What is his bread and butter? Some task specificity from Kreis would do him good.
  2. Shelton. When deployed as an outside midfielder in a 4-4-2 shape, he is expected to track deep into his own 2nd and 1st phases and thus finds himself too deep to contribute offensively when the ball is turned over.
  3. Villa. The most obviously isolated member of NYCFC found himself with his back to goal and attempted to retain possession with little aid from his deeper lying teammates. Throughout his career, Villa has thrived on the combination of crafty players, or wide space to drive into towards the eventual combination of crafty players; NYCFC detached him from the shape as Mullins provided no connection from the 3rd to 4th phase.

Although NYCFC did a fair job of nullifying the RSL midfield’s usual dominance of possession (RSL: 50.5% NYCFC: 49.5%), central defenders Wingert and Hernandez had a spacing problems all match when containing the forward tandem of Sandoval and Saborio.

The RSL forwards started square and flat as their team started to build, then would make opposing, dynamic runs and created spaces in between the center backs. As the forwards flattened, Wingert and Hernandez did not have the
nycfc rsl may 25 2015 defensive spacingopportunity to create depth to prepare for the runs and both ended up in 1v1 physical battles, which they frequently lost.

The movement was initiated by the first forward, mostly Sandoval, but it was mixed, and the second would compliment the run with proper spacing – either short to combine together, or in the opposite direction to stretch the opposing center backs.

Gil continued to drop deeper to receive the ball on the half-turn to distribute, which sucked Jacobson’s protective shell and thus opened the space for either Saborio or Sandoval.

RSL’s first goal, in the 25′ was the sum of Villa’s inability to retain possession in the 2nd phase, and Sandoval’s willingness to check to the ball, thus dragging out Hernandez. The checked run allowed for space beyond the forward line to develop, as Sandoval flicked the ball onto a progressed Stertzer, in the space, who found the net.

The second goal was finished by Saborio off of a cross from the right wing and was created by the spacing issue between Wingert and Hernandez. Both Saborio and Sandoval made opposing runs as the ball was swung to the right flank, then the forwards darted in similar patterns towards the goal, but Saborio was running into the space created by his original run.


The inability to connect offensive phases leaves NYCFC isolating key roles in their formation. Centrally, Diskerud must find his ‘wheelhouse’ in Kreis’ system, and the offensive network depends on nit. The goals will come with Villa leading the lines and with complimentary, eager Shelton in wide areas, but NYCFC need to refine defensive distances and the rigid connection of all 4 defenders to be successful.

  • Anonymous

    Another great strategy against NYCFC seems to be simply moving the ball up the field and kicking it in their goal

    They currently have no plan to counter this tactic

    • Coleman Larned

      Seems to be working.