Eye on Tactics: NYCFC struggle to find offensive identity with no defensive grit


Tactical Analysis

A toothless NYCFC led in most statistical categories throughout their match against the Sounders this weekend, but Seattle’s quality was never truly shaken. The home side was consistently wasteful with dead balls and unable to send a physical message in the midfield, which allowed Seattle to remain in the game and let their superior, technical quality shine.nycfc seas May 4 2015 formation

Jason Kreis setup his NYCFC side with their third different formation in as many games, and settled with a 4-2-3-1 shape. Although they wanted to be dominant in possession and offensively press at home, Kreis was clearly concerned with Seattle’s Dempsey-Martins tandem, and placed Mix Diskerud a bit deeper in the midfield to defensively compensate.

Sigi Schmid has trusted a 4-4-2 formation for most of the season, allowing his four in the midfield to stay compact, advance with width and isolation, to allow for Dempsey and Martins to combine freely and account for the majority of the attack.

Taking the the diminutive field into account, it was obvious from the first whistle that both teams were attempting to advance the ball into their respective attacking thirds early and often. For NYCFC, Mix Diskerud was the intentional catalyst, as he would drop deep or find pockets in the middle third to turn and distribute quickly. Both Mix and Grabavoy deployed this strategy early, but it was obvious that Mullins struggled to consistently find space to be the destination of the possession. Too often, Mullins would peal off the center defenders and try to find space in behind.

NYCFC struggled from early in the match to identify themselves offensively. Diskerud and Grabavoy were clearly comfortable in possession and thrive off of it, but the field dimensions did not allow for suitable pockets to form, typically created by structural width. As a center forward on a short field, Mullins would try to stretch the limited space by running behind, but too often, the midfielder would try to find his feet and demand checked runs.

The first goal came against the run of play and Seattle took advantage of the length and Watson-Siriboe’s eagerness to follow Martin’s to the ball but not equally in behind. A simple 30 yard ball on the ground was able to spring Martins on goal from within Seattle’s own half for a simple 1v1 finish.

As NYCFC was not able to capitalize on their edge in possession (59.2% to 40.8%), shots (10 to 3) and crosses (10 to 3) in the 1st half, Seattle grasped the game coming out of halftime with 57.2% of the possession for the first 30 minutes of the second half. Within the first 30 minutes, NYCFC were able to nick a goal on the counter-attack in the 54th minute through finding Mullins early in the possession. As the ball crossed midfield, NYCFC  bypassed seven Seattle Sounders players with a feed to Mullins and found a trailing Ballouchy who finished in space just inside the box.

Any momentum was quickly quelled by a Sounders goal four minutes later that epitomized the deficiencies of NYCFC’s midfield. The lack of grit to win 1v1 challenges and loose balls by the home side gave Seattle the opportunity to find Martins isolated left flank, who broke his defender down to combine with Pappa and Dempsey for the winning goal.

Three battles in the midfield were lost in succession by NYCFC, twice by Alvarez and once by Diskerud, to allow for the distribution to Martins.

The game opened up past the 60th minute after Seattle’s second goal, as NYCFC started to bring players on to change the tempo and style of their attack. Seattle countered by allowing Martins to stretch the defense while Dempsey and Pappa sagged to connect in possession and fill defensive pockets. Seattle’s third and the game’s final goal came as Seattle combined to find a bowed Dempsey who drew, once again, an overeager Watson-Siriboe to his back, flicked the ball to Martins who was able to finish 1v1, again. Seattle was able to see the game out by packing 10 men behind the ball and out tackling and working a frantic NYCFC side.

It was obvious that an identity to NYCFC offense was lacking, stemming from the dichotomy of stylistic ideology and structural limitations. As Diskerud and Grabavoy possess in the midfield on a short and narrow pitch, the other midfielders must provide length beyond the center forward. Ballouchy’s insistence on pinching to allow Brovsky to overlap and Alvaraz’s unwillingness to get beyond Mullins – because of his desire to have balls played to feet – isolated Mullins in his desire for deep space.

The mixture in the midfield has not been found, as Mix and Grabavoy controlled the majority of possession, but lost the physical battle and were unable to make a statement of forceful intent until 2/3rds of the way into the match — and it was more of a chippy nature at that point.

The match was a nice example of what the objectivity of statistics lack in qualifying a game, but one stat you cannot dismiss is NYCFC’s inability to connect and create scoring opportunities off of crosses, either by set pieces or through the run of play. The home side had 31 crosses. Four successfully found a teammate andnone ended in a shot on goal.


Three NYCFC players had different problems against Seattle that led to their demise. 1) Mix Diskerud struggled to win the physical battle and positionally identify himself as a midfielder. He was stuck in between protecting the back for a traditional, deep lying #6, and advancing to contribute in the offensive third. 2) Watson-Siriboe was caught out for Seattle’s 1st and 3rd goals, too eager to press the first forward to check to possession and not able to compensate once the run was made behind him. 3) Mullins was unable to choose the right times to check to his own midfield for the ball to his feet and when to peel away from the central defender to stretch the opposing back four.

Jason Kreis needs to find a formation that suits his best play-maker in Mix Diskerud. That, and David Villa back in the lineup as quickly as possible to remedy his team’s current seven game win less streak.






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  • DoubleGuns

    I find them to have an offensive identity

  • Lou

    Eye on Tactics: NYCFC struggle to find identity


    • Short … to the point … and was in the running for the title actually, but Larned makes a good point accentuating that defensive grit that is so obviously lacking and stunting and possibility of offensive production.

  • NYCFC is bad

    I find the whole NYCFC thing very offensive, very very offensive.

  • Larry’s A Simpleton

    I find the f.cosmos drawing 5000 in brooklyn lol funny.

    • Resguard

      Yeah, but at least they win. Otherwise have fun losing every game.

      • Lou

        Maybe he’s a bot?

  • jspech

    Sorry JR, New York is for winners.

    • Chris

      That’s actually bullshit. Knicks are more popular than the Yankees and they have sucked. On a far sadder note, NYRB have been doing great for at least 2 years now and nobody in new York gives a ****..

  • Chris

    The rarest of spectacles coming up this Sunday: more than 20k at Red Bulls Arena! (mostly NYCFC fans)

  • Smith

    I don’t think the tactics are the issue. This team has a lot of mediocre to sub-par players and a couple of stars. When one of the stars is out, they play mediocre to sub-par ball. Teams that play mediocre to sub-par ball lose regardless of tactics. This is just a team full of bad players and the results reflect that.

    • Ali is my man

      That’s basically it. Kreis does not have the players to employ his technical approach. Very poor start overall for this franchise. I guess things can only get better.

    • A completely new team forged via MLS expansion policy with above average expansion expectation is a tough mix. When fully fit I would have to disagree that it’s a bad team, yet a disjointed one. The analysis of Kreis’ tactics weren’t necessarily an opinion, just an analysis. But, 3 formations in 3 games is not a good sign.

      • Smith

        That’s because he’s trying to make a dollar out of 99 cents. The players are lacking. Kreis is trying, but he just doesn’t have the horses. So, he keeps mixing up the players and formations in the desperate hope that something, anything at all, will work. Once something does, he’ll likely stick wiyth it.

        • Ulrich

          Exactly! The best combination of players may not always be the best player (1-11), and weekly injuries coupled with suspensions kills any continuity being developed. And 80% of the roster came from other teams’ castoffs that were at best journeymen squad members. As MLS expands and gets larger, the brand-new expansion teams created from scratch (populated by castoffs) will have a much more difficult time getting up to speed compared to teams jumping in from lower leagues with at least a few years of roster history. I’d venture NYCFC will maximize the upcoming transfer window (to the extent MLS salary cap rules allow) and overhaul a good portion of the starters.

  • paul

    Good article and analysis. If there is any silver lining for NYCFC is that, as pitiful as their start has been, they aren’t being dominated. Only game where they didn’t control possession was the Rapids game, but it’s tough playing up there for everybody. So yes the problems are finishing ineptitude and sporadic silliness in defense. I wondered what Kreis was smoking when he kept saying for weeks he was happy with Nemec’s performance. That guy has been a total waste of space.

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