NYCFC wobbles but survives the FC Dallas press

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

The Bronx – If New York City FC are to turn what will be their first playoff appearance into a deep playoff run, it will have to navigate through organized pressure from their opponents.

FC Dallas provided a strong example of what to expect, and judging from Saturday’s match, there is cause for concern and optimism.

Before delving into NYCFC’s up and down performance, it’s important to note that FC Dallas are a superlative exception to most teams in MLS. Head coach Oscar Pareja has built a tactical structure that allows for his players to express their individual talent in attack while keeping disciplined in defense. They controlled most of Saturday’s match, created more clear cut chances and held NYCFC without a shot for much of the second half.

Dallas’ pressure was somewhat different than that of the much celebrated New York Red Bulls’ press. Their front three closed down when NYCFC’s defense and Josh Saunders attempted to play their way back to front but kept their midfielders somewhat disengaged. With Carlos Gruezo and Kelyn Acosta as defensive midfielders, Dallas man-marked Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, forcing them to play diagonals rather than build through the middle. The tactic worked more often than not and Pareja said he was pleased with his team’s execution after the match.

“[NYCFC] are a team with personality who wants to build from the back,” Pareja said. “They have great feet and great soccer minds and we knew we had to be concentrated 100 percent of the time cause if not they would play through us and break that pressure. It was a little risky but we implemented it for the whole game and I’m very proud because they had the fitness level and executed today exactly how we wanted.”

NYCFC took advantage of the times Dallas’ pressure sagged off. On the first goal, Pirlo pulled Acosta upfield to open space for Andoni Iraola to fill and start a break with a quick outlet to Ronald Matarrita. Suddenly, City had a 5v4 break. Ryan Hollingshead had to drop in, allowing Matarrita to cross for Jack Harrison who squared to an open Thomas McNamara for the finish.

The second half tug-of-war was an entertaining tactical battle. For Dallas, Victor Ulloa came on in midfield with Mauro Diaz moved up to the forward line to keep pressing the City backline. Patrick Vieira replaced R.J. Allen with Khiry Shelton and pushed him up the right wing to play a 3-4-3. Dallas, able to close down on each NYCFC defender, immediately created three chances off of turnovers. But they left the space in between them and the fullbacks wide open and NYCFC were able to play their way through the exposure.

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Harrison had the entire left wing to carry the ball upfield and create The Pigeons’ chances and their goal. There was no forward to close Harrison down and Hollingshead stayed on the edge of the area so Harrison had the time and space to make a peach of an assist. In each of Shelton’s goals this season, he got inside his man either on the dribble or to meet a cross. A 6’3″ forward who can run at opponents is intriguing. Add in ten assists during senior year at Oregon State University and you get taken number two overall with the National Team keeping an eye on you.

As riveting as the tactical aspect of this match was, Lampard’s injury may be a milestone in the season and it has to be noted. Vieira believes that if you can commit numbers forward and put them in the right places, chances will come. Fifty-one goals, two more than in all of the 2015 season, shows there’s some truth to that. Some of Lampard’s twelve goals were not pretty but he went forward and found the right places. If Lampard is sidelined for a period of time, the onus will be on his replacement to do the same. Reality is that there is no equivalent to Lampard, meaning Vieira and David Villa will have to work together to mold a new approach.

Had Steven Mendoza finished his chance, NYCFC would be in first place and presumably qualified for the playoffs. Though Mendoza came to better understand his role beneath Villa, he either miscued the right decision or perfectly played the wrong one. McNamara could move inside so Mendoza, Harrison and (if he keeps it up) Shelton become the wide options. That would keep the 4-3-3 and the fluid attack.

But if Vieira tries that setup against the Chicago Fire, it will be because it best fulfills the lingering principle.

“I think we have to be more clear on the smaller details, regarding how the opposition will press us,” Vieira said. “That is the work for myself and the staff to analyze how they will defend up front and try to build up the way we want at the back. I think at times we did it quite really well. I think at times we need to be more brave, trust in each other and believe in ourself. I think that overall, I’m happy with the way we tried to play. They tried to press us really hard, really well but we were brave at times to play from the back.”


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