NYCFC Finds Common Ground entering Second Half

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoFor a team that’s just found its rhythm, New York City FC is in a good position.

NYCFC has nine wins in its first 17 matches and is comfortably in third in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference with the top-two places in reach. The club has won its third game in a row and just happened to defeat the archrival New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena for the first time, on Saturday afternoon. Entering the second half of the season, only now do they feel like the pieces are in place for them to challenge for a Supporters Shield.

“We brought in a lot of talented guys this off-season,” Thomas McNamara said. “A lot of guys came in a little bit late to preseason so we were inconsistent to start the year but I feel like finally we’ve gotten into a rhythm. We need to keep building on this. We got three wins in a row in the league and two more games before we take a break. We need to focus on the game Thursday and make it four-in-a-row.”

The Pigeons (9-5-3, 30 points) have two more games against the Red Bulls (7-8-2, 23), the first at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 6. The two games against Toronto FC (10-2-5, 35) and the Chicago Fire (10-4-3, 34), the two teams above City in the conference and Supporters Shield standings, will be equally as important to their second-half success. Like City, Toronto and Chicago have scored at least 30 goals this season, a challenge to a team that collected its fourth shutout of the season.

“I always talk about being solid defensively, it’s not just about the back four or the center backs, it’s about the team,” Vieira said. “When you concede chances, that means from up front we didn’t work well or we didn’t work hard enough. Today when you look at the way that David [Villa], Rodney [Wallace] and Jack [Harrison] worked in the first half, then we became a team, a solid team, a hard team to beat.

“When we work well up front, we make it more easy for our back four. So that’s why this performance showed that when we are working well together as a team, we’re going to give ourselves more chance of winning football matches.”

New York City was compact and cohesive defensively while remaining true to its approach of playing from the back. Vieira noted last month how the back four has improved with its range of passing making it possible for defenders to play accurate long balls to go with short passes into the midfield. That range was on display against the Red Bulls where despite the press, the defense was able to make the right decision and avoid costly giveaways.

“We stuck to our gameplan, we stuck to our principles,” R.J. Allen said. “We were smart with the ball. Sometimes it was smart to play, other times it was smart to put the ball in the channel for Rodney, Jack and David.”

Of City’s five losses, mistakes leading to goals played a part in three. The defense was tidier and well positioned to deny Bradley Wright-Phillips space to run into. The positioning and pressure of the forwards and midfield limited the Red Bulls to playing long balls that Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens handled with ease. 

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

Ben Sweat, right, had an assist and scored the insurance goal for NYCFC.

“Everyone is on the page,” Ben Sweat said. “Patrick has everyone on the same page from Sean [Johnson] all the way up to David. We defend as a team, we attack as a team and that was huge today. David was cutting out passes, pressing from the top which allowed the back to press, the midfield to press. It was a very tight unit today.”

If the Pigeons could replicate their collective performance from Saturday for the rest of the season, they would be in position to contend for trophies at the end of the year, Sweat said. Sean Johnson said the team’s strong performance against an Eastern Conference rival bodes well for the team’s chances in the future. Callens, however, took a long view of the road ahead.

“We feel we are nearing our best but the season is very long,” Callens said. “The most important thing is to maintain our level of play. We worked hard today but we have to keep going.”

The midfield trio of Yangel Herrera, McNamara and Alex Ring showed they were capable of winning second-balls in midfield and providing a threat going forward. Herrera and Ring focus their play on winning the ball back. McNamara’s wise support play allowed both of them to join the attack. Two Luis Robles saves kept Herrera off the scoresheet, Ring earned an assist on Sweat’s goal. Ring said the collective play shown during the comeback wins against the Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders combined with Saturday’s performance show the team are finding ‘common ground.’

“I think it’s important to get in-form now,” Ring said. “In the first half of the season, we had many new players coming over and it takes time to get everything in sync. Now the season starts to be important, the important games are coming up. The playoffs are coming up and we want to do well. It’s time we all perform and keep it going.”


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