It has not been easy watching recent NYCFC performances. The team has simply not been been good enough, with the last truly good match coming in the second week of July. The thrill of three home victories by a combined scoreline of 6-0, including a Derby win and amazing displays from the club’s youth, has not been matched in over three months. Luckily, the playoffs are nearly upon us. When the final whistle is blown on Sunday, regardless of result, the season will undergo a reset, and the last twelve weeks of mediocrity will mean little in comparison to the Knockout Round. With the final game of the season readily approaching, here are the four things to focus on.
Obviously, a positive result on Sunday is City’s first priority. Barring a disaster, City will have the luxury of home field advantage for the Knockout Round. Who they will host, on the other hand, is completely up in the air. Even a draw would be in City’s favor, almost guaranteeing avoiding red-hot DC United in the play-in game.
Seeding changes aside, NYCFC need a result for confidence and momentum. Winning only two of their last twelve matches, the boys in blue simply cannot let their disappointing play continue into November. While the three points are certainly important, NYCFC must address the underlying issues that have plagued this team for months.
We have seen little consistency in formation and player selection throughout Domè’s tenure as manager. The formation showcased by NYCFC on Sunday will likely be the same as the Knockout Round, giving fans a taste of what is to come. While some players may receive rest for lingering injuries on Sunday, the formation and tactics will speak volumes to the potential playoff XI. Below are the two likely options:
NYCFC’s tried and true formation since early into Patrick Vieira’s tenure with the club, the 4-3-3 would force Domè to pick two of City’s deep selection of wingers to start alongside David Villa. Youth, pace, and a secondary goal scorer would relieve pressure for Villa and allow the Blues to use the width of the entire pitch, and keep the opposition compressed into their own end. With Yangel Herrera expected to return to full fitness come playoff time, Ebenezer Ofori would likely be relegated to substitute duties. Ben Sweat would almost certainly get the nod at left back, providing coverage at the back to stop the counter.
With a full squad to select from, Domè may opt to line up in the 4-3-1-2 Diamond formation seen sparingly throughout the year. While the formation would not showcase any wingers, limiting Jesus Medina, Taty Castellanos, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi from starting, the diamond will pack the midfield and limit the counter-attack. Jo Inge Berget and David Villa would work in a front two with Maxi not far behind, creating an interesting front three. Ronald Matarrita would likely start at left back opposite Anton Tinnerholm, and the pair would have the independence to join the attack from the wings. Lastly, the fluidity of the midfield would give both Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring the opportunity to join the attack without a concern for the counter-attack.
NYCFC’s identity as a club from day one has been rooted in possession-based football with dynamic attackers. Before the tail end of this season, City’s style of play was the one constant on the pitch. For any chance on Sunday and in the playoffs, Domè must return to the style that has been a part of NYCFC from the beginning.
In City’s first three seasons of existence, the missing piece of the puzzle was a secondary scorer opposite David Villa. Now, with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Maxi Moralez, and Jesus Medina combining to score 25 goals to Villa’s 13, there should be no excuse. The current roster has a perfect mix of experience and youth, and has lost only once at home all season. This is the same NYCFC that outplayed Atlanta United and beat the Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium. With some fine tuning, City can beat anyone in this league.
The pessimistic, worst case scenario must also be addressed. There is a real possibility that NYCFC cannot turn back to the form of months ago, lose on Sunday, and subsequently are knocked out early into the playoffs once again. If this is the case, real questions need to be asked during the offseason. First, City’s youth was mismanaged this season by both managers. Jonathan Lewis did not play nearly as much as he should have, and some player selections on game days were questionable at best, and preposterous at worst. We saw players like Eloi Amagat, Rodney Wallace, and Tommy McNamara given opportunities time and time again over promising young talent. Domè has said that he “needs two wingers”, yet has had Jesus Medina, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Taty Castellanos, and Jonathan Lewis available for most of the season.
Shifting focus to our manager, some fans will certainly be clamoring for a change. That being said, Domè needs and deserves more time than he has been given to implement his style and add talent to the squad. Nonetheless, NYCFC has been mismanaged at times this season, and the results have not been good enough. Under Patrick Vieira, no player’s spot in the starting eleven was guaranteed, and it showed on the field. Domè must motivate his players for every match, regardless of occasion, home and away, which he simply has not done in recent months.
With all this in mind, NYCFC have as good a chance as any to make their run this season and lift MLS Cup. The business-portion of the season has almost arrived. Will it be more of the same from New York’s team? Or will fans finally get the playoff victories they deserve? We’ll find out soon enough.
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