By Nick Fiorino (@stretch_fio)
On Sunday, NYCFC embark on a seven day, three game homestand beginning with the Bronx Edition of the 2018 Hudson River Derby. With David Villa unlikely to suit up due to injury, City’s supporting cast with face their biggest test of the season. Luckily, the boys in blue have been the best team in MLS at home this season, going undefeated (7-0-1) and conceding only 4 goals in 8 games, creating a +17 goal differential in the process. The pressure will be on for Domènec Torrent’s first New York Derby, as tactical changes must be made to beat the Red Bull press. NYCFC have responded to the pressure by making incredibly impressive hires to Torrent’s coaching staff, adding four former Barcelona assistants and trainers. With news also coming Friday that Red Bull Manager Jesse Marsch has departed the Red Bulls for Europe, the pressure will be on interim manager Chris Armas as well. We’re going to learn a lot about Domè, our club, and the rest of our season’s prospects this weekend in City’s most important match thus far.
Last Saturday, NYCFC traveled to Toyota Park in Chicago and blew a 2-1 lead, losing 3-2 to the Fire. Chicago winger Aleksandar Katai torched City for two goals in a five minute span, capitalizing on two mistakes by Ben Sweat. If there was any bright side to the loss, NYCFC have not suffered back-to-back losses in over two seasons, a streak dating back to April of 2016. Although losing both contests to the Red Bulls thus far in 2018, the all-time series at Yankee Stadium is tied 2-2-0.
The recent form of our cross river rivals has been undeniably fantastic. They have lost only one of their last ten matches, tallying four clean sheets. Averaging two points per game, the Red Bulls rank first in the Eastern Conference, showcasing their incredibly strong start to the season.
Predicted Lineups - @NYCFCTactics
NYCFC, under Domé, has been coming out in a 4-3-3 with Ring and Maxi having far more freedom than Ofori. This is putting a lot of trust in Ebenezer as a sole pivot, but with Ring at CM it’ll be easy to drop into a double pivot if the game calls for it. The back four of Sweat - Callens - Ibeagha - Anton seem to have the new gaffer’s trust, but don’t be surprised if Chanot comes in for Ibeagha.
Playing Isi on the left as an inverted winger and Lewis on the right will be great outlets over the top of the Red Bull's press. With Villa out for the foreseeable future, Berget gets a crack at being the man in the middle. Having a true targetman is a card the Blues have rarely played.
The front four of Maxi - Isi - Berget - Lewis all have the positional flexibility to fill multiple roles. Expect Maxi to look to overload on the wings to encourage underlaps by Isi, Lewis, Sweat, and Anton, while also being an outlet in build up play from the back. Ring, with new positional freedom, will look to alleviate Maxi’s large list of responsibilities.
Even with Jesse Marsch officially leaving the club on Friday, assistant Chris Armas will stick to their tried and true system of 4-2-3-1 with high levels of pressing at every turn. The partnership of Parker and Long has solidified the back. Kemar Lawrence, coming off a great game, will get a go, but if Murillo is back expect Lade to sit.
The American midfield duo of Adams and Davis is amazing at setting a good base for the front three of Valot, Muyl and BWP to take risks pressing. Valot likes to sink into the midfield to playmake and alleviate pressure. Muyl (or Royer) will play opposite as a true winger. Kaku will float centrally and create pressure via passing and pressing of Ofori.
Up top, Wright-Phillips is still the focal point of the attack. Expect him to be a threat aerially running off defender’s back shoulders and beginning the press by dividing the field down the middle between NYCFC’s two centerbacks.
Why Jonathan Lewis?
After looking over NYCFC’s record against NYRB, a pattern emerged around how starting a speedster and dribbler on the wing is a good counter to the Red Bull press.
Since 2015, NYCFC is 3-1-8 in all competitions against the Reds across the river. In all four of the games where points have been earned for City, Jack Harrison started on the right wing. He was a dynamic outlet and singular chance creator that helped relieve seemingly relentless pressure. Domé needs to field a player in that mold for continued success.
That is why starting Jonathan Lewis, a player with similar attributes, will provide the highest return. He will also drive back NYRB’s opposing fullback Kemar Lawrence, potentially neutralizing the dynamic fullback. There currently is not a player on the roster that possesses the pace and the technical ability, Medina being a close second, that can deliver more bang for the buck against a high pressing opponent like the former MetroStars.
Defeating the Press
Building out the back is a principle that Patrick Vieira brought to NYCFC and has become a calling card of the club. So far, Domé hasn’t deviated drastically from this philosophy, which is shared by his role model, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola. When facing a well executed and coordinated press like the Red Bulls, failure to clear the zone can lead to embarrassing goals against. Domé will hopefully look to offer different outlets for the Hudson River Derby. On goal kicks specifically, NYCFC has the most clear cut challenge against the Redbulls to its historical building out the back philosophy. Here are a couple of ways Domé could tackle this upcoming problem.
All three solutions face drawbacks as there is no plan that has no risk associated with it. That being said, pragmatism and philosophical stubbornness are tools needed by managers to achieve the desired result. So let’s assess what would be the best course of action for Sunday’s night game.
The English Solution of going Route 1 goes against the philosophy of City Group’s Godking Pep, our former headman Vieira and current manager Domé. That being said, this solution does a good job of utilizing a skill, targetman, of Jo Inge Berget that David Villa does not possess. With Villa out, this is more feasible than ever before, but seems an unlikely choice by Domé.
The Vieira Solution of doing the same action time and time again, playing short and building out the back, when executed well lends itself to high levels of possession and dominance that has made NYCFC a top five club since adopting the philosophy. When this approach goes bad, however, it feels like the world is falling apart. Scorelines end up out of hand and all team momentum is crushed. This pure philosophical tactic seems unlikely from Domé, as he’s seen too much not to be pragmatic.
Lastly, the Hybrid Solution is one that combines both of these approaches. It allows for pragmatism and philosophy to coexist, triggered by reads of Sean Johnson. Just like a Run-Pass Option for a Quarterback in football, these reads are all about seeing where the defense is located and reacting accordingly. With the inclusion of Berget at center forward, the Route 1 approach is far more viable than ever before, but the DNA of the team should not be compromised so easily. The inclusion of an additional speedster in Jonathan Lewis paired with Isi on the wing allows for the ultimate release of a press, a long ball into space towards the opposition’s goal. Just like in basketball, if there is an over aggressive press, sometimes the easiest way to relieve pressure is to lead a man into space. That’s why having Jack Harrison on the field in 2017 was so important to having a positive series record, and why Jonathan Lewis may be the key to NYCFC dominance on Sunday.
NYCFC: Maxi Moralez
El Frasquito has been a revelation for NYCFC this season and will be central to City’s gameplan Sunday night. In the last league meeting between the two sides, Red Bull’s Tyler Adams man-marked Moralez for the entirety of the match, causing City trouble all afternoon. Domè will be aware of this, and surely use his tactical judgement to create time and space for Moralez on Sunday. Maxi is second in MLS among qualified players in Key Passes with 53, and is tied for second in the league with 8 assists. Looking at advanced individual statistics, Moralez ranks eighth in the league in expected goals plus assists with 10.41, placing himself in elite company. NYCFC forwards rarely get credit on the defensive end, but Jesus Medina, David Villa, and Maxi Moralez have been fantastic on both sides of the ball for a majority of the season. Maxi ranks in the top fifteen in total tackles and tackles per game among midfielders. For NYCFC to get all three points, Moralez will be key.
NYRB: Luis Robles
The Red Bull keeper has been one of the league’s all-time best, and he isn’t going away anytime soon. Already top ten in MLS history in wins and holding the league record for consecutive games played, Robles has been a thorn in City’s side from the beginning. According to American Soccer Analysis, Robles is sixth in Goals Allowed minus expected, a stat that tracks goals saved from keepers. The Red Bull keeper will certainly be key, as City’s dynamic attack at home always seems to create chances on net. Although missing some time this season, Robles has held clean sheets in back to back games, (193 consecutive minutes) and will look to do the same on Sunday.
With Atlanta United losing on Wednesday night, an NYCFC win would place them within three points of the Eastern Conference lead, with a game still in hand over Atlanta. A loss would be incredibly costly for City, however, creating a four point buffer between second and third place in the standings.
Goals: David Villa (8), Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (8), Maxi Moralez (6)
Assists: Maxi Moralez (8), Jesus Medina (6), , David Villa (4)
Home Goals: David Villa (5)
Goals: Bradley Wright-Phillips (11), Daniel Royer (4), 3 Players (3)
Assists: Alejandro Gamarra (10), Sean Davis (6), Bradley Wright-Phillips (5)
Away Goals: Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer (3)
Follow Nick Fiorino on Twitter at @stretch_fio and The Third Rail at @ThirdRailSC. Interested in learning more about the Third Rail? Visit our website at thirdrail.nyc for merchandise, weekly game previews and more. Interested in joining? Click here.
Watch NYCFC v Red Bulls on FS1 at 7:00 ET or Listen on WNYE 91.5 FM