The rematch of the season opener is on tap for Sunday (6pm on Fox Sports1) and Martin Tomszak is back with another look at New York City FC. The Fire will attempt to avoid another dubious record on the books.
What Are They All About? NYCFC
Victory at last! In what seemed like an away match for both sides due to the sparse attendance and the Alaskan like weather, the Chicago Fire finally notched their first win of the season defeating Philadelphia 1-0. Veljko Paunovic and his men continue to show that they are developing tactically as a unit and if Chicago can learn to finish their chances then they will grow by leaps and bounds. Their next challenge comes on Sunday with a familiar foe, NYCFC.
The two sides met on opening day and the result was not one that sat well with Chicago. The Fire were firmly outplayed and the defensive cohesion promised by the new brass was nowhere to be found as lapses in concentration, errors of judgment, and a lack of positional awareness by the Fire back line led to a 4-3 victory for NYCFC. It must be noted that opening day cannot usually be used as an accurate measuring stick for a team’s ability and results around the league have shown that MLS’s first month has been a true roller coaster. As we get deeper into the schedule it is time for things to settle down and for teams to reveal their true colors.
Will Chicago gift NYCFC their first home win of the season? Will Chicago shock onlookers and avoid a league record tying 27th consecutive road match without a win? Or will it be honors even at the final whistle as the new technical staff establishes ties to the Fire’s recent tradition of acquiring unwanted records?
NYCFC Form Guide: W-D-L-D
Previous Match: a 1-1 draw at home with New England.
Formation: 3-2-2-3; Saunders; Mena, Hernandez, Iraola; Bravo, Diskerud; McNamara, Poku; Mendoza, Villa, Taylor
Strengths: Having just covered the strengths of NYCFC a few weeks ago we won’t focus as much on big picture strengths but instead will break down the three matches that NYCFC has played since their win at Toyota Park.
Technically gifted and tactically aware: When the league welcomed Patrick Vieira to New York someone forgot to mention that MLS is not known for technically gifted players or tactically aware teams. Results aside, this NYCFC side has to be applauded for the way in which they play soccer. Their midfield is stacked with the likes of Federico Bravo, Andrea Pirlo, Kwadwo Poku, Mix Diskerud, Tommy McNamara, Khiry Shelton, Mehdi Ballouchy, Patrick Mullins and allegedly Frank Lampard on the roster. They have the opposite of a depth problem. They have a player for every tactical possibility and every match situation along with a coach who can utilize each man to the best of his ability.
Whether it is Diskerud and Poku who win the ball back deep in their own half before charging through opposing defenses, Bravo martialling both the attack and defense from a true “#6” role, Pirlo taking opposing players out of the equation with smart positional play and exquisite passing, or McNamara who creates situations out of nothing with pure will, these guys have the skill set to dominate the midfield better than anyone in the East. With NYCFC typically utilizing only one true, the midfield has been doing more than just creating chances, they’ve been finishing them as well.
Statistically speaking their possession and passing reflects this midfield domination. Over their last three matches (NE, Orlando, Toronto) they have out-possessed, out-passed and out-shot their opponents and folks, it isn’t even close. In the match against Toronto possession was roughly 60/40 in favor of NYCFC while they outshot TFC 15/10 and attempted 479 passes. Against Orlando their possession was 66/34, with shots being 15/10 and NYCFC’s 632 passes were almost double Orlando’s. The trend continued against New England as NYCFC controlled possession 64/36, outshot the Revolution 18/11 and strung together 524 passes. It also bears mentioning that NYCFC’s passing completion percentage has not dropped below 75% all season. In a league where the passing completion averages somewhere in the 65% range, that is impressive.
Throw in whatever cliché about needing to control the midfield that tickles your fancy but it is very much applicable in this match. If Chicago is to leave Yankee stadium with anything, their 40% possession average and tendency to get outshot in every game will need to be remedied.
3-4-3; 4-4-2; 3-5-1-1; 3-2-2-3: No, that is not Morse code for “please send an Enganche”. Those are some of the visible formations that have been utilized by NYCFC thus far. A further allusion to their tactical capability, Vieira has proven he is capable of addressing any scenario during a match. While many North American fans may still believe that coaches don’t do much when the ball gets rolling Vieira has proven otherwise with his ability to pass instructions along throughout the match. An all too real example being his clear instructions to McNamara and Diskerud to make late runs into the box at Toyota Park as both Razvan Cocis and Arturo Alvarez had issues in tracking back on the counter. It resulted in two very preventable goals from the midfielders. Perhaps Paunovic should assign Matt Polster to man mark Vieira and block his view on the sideline.
Weaknesses: Some readers may be scratching their head when looking at the above strengths because they have failed to result in victories for NYCFC. The only win on the season for the blue side of New York came in the opener against Chicago. Since then their statistical domination has only resulted in two draws and a loss. Let’s take a look at why that’s the case.
Take me out to the ball game: Yankee Stadium is gorgeous and there is no denying the aura of history that washes over spectators as they enter the venue. However, that does not mean that it is a venue conducive to soccer. We touched on it in our last preview but NYCFC does not play well at home. The tactics and style mentioned above benefit from a pitch the size of the Camp Nou, not a field that doesn’t meet FIFA length and width standards. It seems as if every time NYCFC gets going offensively at home they run out of real estate. Whether it is Shelton’s knack for building down the right wing, Diskerud’s insistence on letting his flowing locks flutter in the wind on long meandering runs or Villa’s preference to run onto balls in space, they are all stifled by the pitch at Yankee Stadium. Last season NYCFC won just five home league matches, the same amount it won away from home and despite the atmosphere created there you’d have to think that both players and supporters cannot wait to get out of that venue.
Wait, you never told us how many were on target: Those shot statistics above have to be taken with a grain of salt and must be juxtaposed with the on target statistics. Of the 48 shots taken by NYCFC in their last three matches only 16 (33%) have been on target. With Paunovic’s motto of “No shot, no goal”, Johan Kapelhoff’s reckless abandon when it comes to putting his body on the line and Matt Lampson’s ability to smooth talk the posts into working in the Fire’s favor you’ve got to like Chicago’s odds.
Nah, we don’t like clean sheets: Perhaps it is a case of Vieira tinkering too much but the fact that he has started a different back line in every match this season has to have had some bearing on the lack of a clean sheet for his side so far. Changing tactics might be easy for someone of Vieira’s caliber but there have been a few glaring man marking mistakes that might be due to a lack of the defense’s understanding of position. For example, the goal that Cyle Larin headed in against them saw him unmarked as Jason Hernadez and Andoni Iraola both seemed to think it was the other’s mark. The same was the case on TFC’s set piece goal which saw not one but two unmarked runners in the box.
An attack minded and somewhat aging midfield hasn’t helped the cause either. Frederic Brilliant and Hernandez may have allowed too much space on Givonco’s sublime finish on the second TFC goal but Diskerud’s failure to track back left Giovinco open in the first place and Pirlo’s lack of interest in marking Benoit Cheyrou led to the initial pass. There are gaps that can be exploited in this NYCFC team but Chicago will need to be at their best.
The herd of elephants in the room: The Front Office and the PR staff have nicely deflected away criticism recently with well put together responses from Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez, cute clips of meet the team, and puff pieces on the tattoos sported by the players but the fact remains that the Chicago Fire Soccer Club has not won an away match since July 12, 2014. They will tie the league record for the longest away streak without a victory (27 matches). This is not a blemish that Paunovic and company will want on their resumes no matter how early they are into their tenure and you can bet that everything down to the kitchen sink, heck even the kitchen plumbing will be thrown at this NYCFC side. Supporters have been promised change, they’ve been promised better football, and they’ve been promised fighting spirit and the restoration of tradition honor and passion. Nothing but a win on Sunday will suffice.
Prediction: In Paunovic we trust. In a match that will be marred by refereeing decisions (Mark Geiger has issued 10 yellows and a red in his last two matches in charge) it won’t finish 11 v. 11 but Chicago will get it done. Chicago 2-0 NYCFC. Igboananike keeps scoring and Goossens rockets home a stunner.