Another look at the next opponent by Martin Tomszak.
What Are They All About? NYCFC Preview
After what seems like an eternity (twenty days to be exact) the Chicago Fire finally return to action on Friday April 24th against New York City FC. When the two sides step out onto the Toyota Park pitch fans will witness the first ever meeting between the two clubs, so let’s see what’s in store for the match.
NYCFC Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): L-D-L-L-D
Previous match: A 0-1 loss at home to Portland.
Formation in the last match: 4-3-3: Saunders; Brovsky, Wingert, Watson-Siriboe, Calle; Grabavoy, Ballouchy, Jacobson; Taylor, Mullins, Shelton
Strengths: This NYCFC team is eventually going to be a force to be reckoned with and the Fire should be glad that they aren’t facing them in the final stretch of the season. NYCFC may just be the little brother (or is it step child?) of Manchester City, but that isn’t exactly the worst situation to be in. They have the cash to spend on attracting top talent, both on and off the field. Within a few short months of coming into existence they lined up the services of Frank Lampard (allegedly), David Villa, and Mix Diskerud. Their first season will feature a Chelsea and England legend, a man who just 11 months ago was playing in a Champions league final, and a guy with sexy hair (who can play a decent pass too). To add to this, they grabbed some pretty talented players from within the league through the MLS expansion draft, electing to scoop up the services of league veterans Ned Grabavoy, Patrick Mullins, and Chris Wingert. When Lampard and potentially a few Man City loanees show up this summer, this team is only going to get better.
All of these players are under the tutelage of a man who knows what it takes to win. When NYCFC announced that Jason Kreis would be their head coach, everyone knew they meant business. Kreis formerly coached RSL and led them to the playoffs in every season from 2008-2013, including a MLS Cup in 2009 (defeating the Fire in the Semi-Final). He is known for being tactically astute and enforcing a possession based style of play. Kreis prides himself on fielding versatile midfielders that can control the game, and often implements a 4-4-2 diamond formation that was expected to be deployed in New York. NYCFC has had more possession, more passes, and a higher pass completion percentage than their opponents in every single match it has played this season except for the first meeting with Orlando. Kreis has shifted away from that diamond out of necessity recently with a 4-3-3 and players are slowly growing into the staff’s intended style of play. If they start finishing chances they won’t find themselves below the red line for long.
Weaknesses: Money? Check. Top notch staff (CJ Brown is an assistant)? Check. Strong squad on paper? Check. DP’s? Check, check. Players on the same page, gel time, and a complete understanding of tactics? Ummm, not yet… When looking at this NYCFC team, it is no secret what their main weakness is: a lack of overall cohesion among the team.
After an adrenaline fueled match against Orlando and a homecoming victory against New England, NYCFC has struggled to find consistent form. Despite all of the talent on this team, NYC seems to display all of the features present in a pick-up squad that is playing together for the first time. Everything from miscommunicated penetrating passes, not tracking back, poor man marking, and lax concentration late in matches, all the way to just plain bad luck seems to be plaguing them at the moment. Taking a look at NYC’s last three matches makes this situation all too clear.
In the match against Portland, Dairon Asprilla’s late game winner came off of a lucky deflection after a seemingly dominant NYC performance (Kreis said himself that this was the first match in which the team has shown glimmers of implementing his tactics properly). In the match before that, Philadelphia’s CJ Sapong found himself in acres of space to tap home a late equalizer that left Yankee Stadium stunned and had the NYC backline shrugging shoulders and pointing fingers at one another. Poor marking was again at fault for both goals that Philly scored against NYC in their first meeting of that same week. Zach Pfeffer was able to coolly tap in a cross for the first, while Vincent Nogueira found himself unmarked in the box to slot home a rebounded cross.
This isn’t to say that problems like these are atypical of expansion sides. Most teams struggle with these very same things upon entering the league. The Fire happen to be lucky enough to be facing NYCFC early on in the season and I suspect they will be facing a much better side when the two meet again in just a few weeks. But for now, the Fire faces an incomplete NYC squad.
Missing players and schedule congestion: NYC seems to have the opposite scheduling problem that the Fire do. When the sides meet on Friday, NYC will be playing its fourth match in fourteen days. To add to their woes, they might be missing a few key pieces of their squad. Obviously Frank Lampard won’t be with the team yet, and their other marquee signing, David Villa, is questionable due to a hamstring strain. Also injured is Jason Hernandez, their first choice center back who is dealing with a calf injury. Defender Shay Facey, on loan from the mothership, is away for personal reasons. Starting goalkeeper Josh Saunders has been suspended for one game by the MLS Disciplinary Committee. Attacker Tony Taylor is done for the season after tearing his ACL last weekend and defender Josh Williams is also likely to miss this game. With injuries and weariness come mistakes, mistakes that the Fire will be looking to exploit.
Prediction: The Fire will be chomping at the bit to get going in this one. Look for Chicago to explode out of the gates and continue on from there to get their third consecutive win over a tired and unrefined NYCFC side. Chicago 3-0.