Vieira hopes NYCFC depth keeps pushing playoff race

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

As New York City FC’s regular season enters its final six matches, head coach Patrick Vieira continues to modify his tactics with little attention paid on its possible impact.

NYCFC are first in the Eastern Conference with 44 points in 28 matches. They have yet to clinch a playoff spot but are expected to by every forecaster. Though the gap between first and fourth place in the East is four points, Vieira said he sees benefits no matter where the team finishes the season.

“When you finish in the top two, you miss the first game so it gives you more time to work,” Vieira said. “Of course, the higher you finish the better it is but there is no right-or-wrong. It is not because you finish in the top-four that you are going to go to the final and win it. [Getting the bye] just gives you more time to prepare for the game but on the other hand, if you finish third, fourth, fifth or sixth, you have the rhythms of playing every game, every week.”

Vieira himself said he prefers to avoid the one-game playoff so he can prepare. He will also be mindful of his veteran players possibly getting fatigued and could rotate them out of the lineup. But as the second half of their match against D.C. United showed, Vieira is confident with the depth of his squad.

“The people who came from the bench had an impact on the game,” Vieira said. “That showed me the roster is a really good roster and I’m really happy with the players and the way they performed.”

Trailing at halftime and attacking without any real precision, Vieira substituted Andoni Iraola and Thomas McNamara for Federico Bravo and Steven Mendoza. Bravo held in the gap between midfield and defense. Mendoza stretched the attack with his runs in behind the United defense.

The Pigeons ultimately ended up in what was a 3-3-4, an alignment Vieira trained with early in the season. This opened up space for Frank Lampard to join the attack from deep and score twice to win the game. Vieira said each of his substitutes contributed to the team’s turnaround.

“Mendoza gave them the hard time with the way he closed them down and didn’t allow them to play,” Vieira said. “Bravo put them under pressure a lot in the midfield and didn’t allow them to dictate the game or make the ball where they wanted to make the ball and of course Khiry made an impact in the game. Khiry really showed me the positive reaction I was looking for and that is what I want from the players.”

NYCFC could readjust their backline as Maxime Chanot and Ronald Matarrita return from international duty. Chanot played 90 minutes for Luxembourg while Matarrita played 14 minutes and scored for Costa Rica. Both are expected to rejoin the team on Wednesday.

Vieira said he will wait to see if both are fit enough for Saturday’s match at New England. Chanot and Matarrita can easily be replaced without Vieira altering his defense. He used Jefferson Mena as a right back against D.C. but could also use Jason Hernandez. R.J. Allen would start at left back. Vieira said he knows Mena is not accustomed to playing the position but likes his commitment.

“I asked him to do something that he is not used to,” Vieira said. “The angle is completely different. Of course it was difficult for him, but I know what is his strength. He is on the field, keeps playing and giving 100% and that’s what I want in all the players.”