NYCFC searches for answers at midfield



PURCHASE, N.Y. – It’s never good to lose your two attacking midfielders—even worse when it’s in the playoffs.

New York City FC had to cope with that in the First Leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal as Andrea Pirlo was sidelined with an injured calf muscle and Frank Lampard was limited to 30 minutes as he recovers from his own injury.

Pirlo did light training Thursday but his status for Sunday’s Second Leg at Yankee Stadium is uncertain. Lampard, however, said he’s available to play the full 90 minutes.

With NYCFC needing to makeup a two-goal deficit, head coach Patrick Vieira will have to return to his attacking approach and likely the 4-3-3. That would involve moving Andoni Iraola into defensive midfield and replacing Mikey Lopez and Federico Bravo. Thomas McNamara and Lampard would be their likely replacements.

Toronto FC’s midfield will likely be unchanged. Combining physical play with confidence on the ball, the trio of Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper were able to control the midfield in Sunday’s first leg, forcing City to play over the top. Bradley lived up to his reputation as a midfield strongman while Osorio is the playmaker. Cooper, normally the industrious one, became the pest and nearly baited David Villa into getting suspended.

“[We have to] stand up to them,” Lampard said. “I think Bradley—all of them really, they played a very good game. Bradley is their leader, he’s their heartbeat. You play against players like that, he’s a strong boy, and you have to stand up to him. If I get picked, that’s what I’ll try to do.”

Toronto can approach the Second Leg in two ways. They can sit deep, keep themselves organized defensively and play direct for Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to create something on the counter or they can use their balanced midfield to impose themselves like they did last Sunday.

Iraola thinks they’ll do the latter.

“They pressured us very high and it worked well for them so we have to be ready for that,” Iraola said. “I think we have to be braver to ask for the ball even in difficult positions and do what we we’ve been doing all season.”

Iraola wasn’t the first to say that City needed to be braver when it had the ball. Toronto’s pressure makes that more difficult but their’s does not seek to suffocate. Instead, the Reds would rather confine the opposition. City will be able to play some passes in its own end but it will face challenges working their way through the middle third of the field.

Vieira said it will take tactical discipline to get the advantage Sunday.

“You know when you play a team like that, it’s going to be difficult not to concede so we have to have a different approach because we are two-nil down,” Vieira said. “It is important for us to create chances, important for us to score goals and not to concede. It’s going to be a difficult task but we have to be well-prepared and we’re going to see.”

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