Vieira’s NYCFC Copes With the Rough and Tumble MLS


imagesSometimes, New York City FC can put together performance art worthy of a place in any gallery in New York, but the field is not always a canvas. It can be a street alley and there are teams like the New York Red Bulls or as Sunday showed, Orlando City, that want it that way. And again, that approach has shown to be what was best to defeat Coach Patrick Vieira’s NYCFC.

Had Ronald Matarrita not sustained a high ankle sprain during last Thursday’s training session, then City would probably have had the same starting 11 play in the same 4-3-3 as it had against the Philadelphia Union. The 11 had to be changed but the formation remained the same as Thomas McNamara came in for Matarrita and Rodney Wallace moved to left back. Both McNamara and Wallace struggled, with McNamara unable to create many opportunities from left wing and Wallace responsible for conceding the second goal and unable to join the attack with the same frequency or rigor as Matarrita.

“It wasn’t an easy match for us,” Wallace said. “I thought today was a physical game. It wasn’t the easiest but we tried to step up to the challenge but ultimately things didn’t go our way.”

Vieira said he saw Wallace as a left back and will work with him on helping him adapt to the new spot for the four-to-six weeks that Matarrita is sidelined. If those efforts are successful then Wallace will be able to move into the midfield and help the team contest for second balls, something they struggled to do against Orlando. Vieira said those struggles were part of the team’s overall defensive failure which led to Orlando creating the opportunities to score both goals.

“I think our front three could have defended better,” Vieira said. “Their No. 6, [Antonio] Nocerino, touched too many balls, dictated too much of the game and we weren’t close enough. That was the first mistake. The second mistake was that we didn’t defend the second ball. When we don’t do these two things well, you give them chances to put you in danger because they have quality and I think that was our main problem.”

Orlando City was compact and organized defensively, but resorted to direct play over the top and producing second balls that the Lions were first to throughout the game. To win those contests and regain possession of the game, NYCFC needed strength and numbers in the midfield. A three-man midfield with 5-foot-3-inch Maxi Moralez and Andrea Pirlo in it did not suffice and both received yellow cards — Moralez for pulling an opponent back to prevent a lost second ball from turning into a counterattack and Pirlo for lunging in to contest a second ball.

The idea of teams in Major League Soccer looking first to keep their shape, play direct and fight for every ball over choosing to work the ball on the ground is not a new one. It is becoming less common in 2017 as teams continue to shift toward a more technical, possession-oriented style of play. Facing teams like this, goalkeeper Sean Johnson said, requires a heightened level of intensity.

Matt Kremkau

“You still have teams that play to their strengths like Orlando,” Johnson said. “They’ve got [Carlos] Rivas, they’ve got [Cyle] Larin. They are strong, pacey players who are good in and around the box. The rest of the field players don’t really mess around. They get the ball up the field, they battle and try to win second balls and look to go forward that way.”

Johnson acknowledged that there will be questions raised about how the Pigeons handle physicality but he said he had faith in the team to respond. What that response is remains to be seen. Jack Harrison said that when it comes to adjusting for teams that are physical, it will have to require the team to stick to its principles tactically and technically but to have the heart and tenacity to contest possession in the midfield.

“We do need to be a bit more intense,” Harrison said. “We need to match their intensity and their heart in the game. That’s what it comes down to. They were more aggressive than us and wanted to win the ball back more than us. … You can do as much as you want tactically and sometimes like today, it doesn’t come off and it’s just the heart that leaves you with a win. We need to find that balance.”

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