What Are They All About? NYCFC
Crawling out of the basement. This past weekend the Chicago Fire drew 2-2 on the road against New England in a match that served as a microcosm of their strengths and weaknesses. Skill on the ball from Katai, impressive movement from Nikolic, a never-ending work rate from DeLeeuw, and a McCarty’s tenacity in midfield almost led to a second consecutive victory for Veljko Paunovic’s men. However, an out of position Schweinsteiger serving as a stop gap in fixing the back line, atrocious goal keeping from Sanchez, and an overall lack of quality outside of the aforementioned players meant that a resurgent Chicago side was only good enough to play spoiler to a team with genuine playoff chances. They’ll continue their search for a one point per game average this Wednesday against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium (6:00 CT on ESPN+).
The love child of the New York Yankees and City Football Group enters the encounter amidst a dip in form that has put them outside of the Supporters Shield race but certainly doesn’t put them in danger of missing the playoffs. They’ll see this fixture as an opportunity to build some momentum heading into their second ever playoff voyage, one which they will be hoping lasts longer than 2017's premature exit in the Eastern Conference semifinal. Additionally, this will be NYCFC’s last conference fixture against an opponent not directly competing for a post-season berth, meaning that all three points would serve as a much-needed cushion. Will the Fire be a thorn in NYCFC’s side for a second time this season, or will the hosts find revenge for their loss at Toyota Park in June? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
NYCFC Form Guide (All Competitions): D-D-L-L-D
Previous Result: A 1-1 away draw against Montreal.
Formation: 4-4-2 (Diamond); Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Ring, Mataritta, Amagat, Moralez; Villa, Berget
Strengths: Our main focus back in June was complementing NYCFC’s diversified assets and their ability to get the most out of the non-DP and non-TAM spots on their roster. Additionally, their consistency in style and approach made for a tough opponent. This time around we’ll feature a few additional positives.
He’s Back: Last time out Chicago was lucky enough to play an NYCFC side that didn’t feature David Villa. Their club captain was battling through a rough injury spell that kept him out almost a month, his second such spell of the year. Villa has started just seventeen of NYCFC’s matches but has returned to full fitness in the past several weeks. The attacking legend’s next goal will be his seventy-fifth regular season score for NYCFC and will bring his total goal and assist tally for the club above the one-hundred mark. No other person in baby blue will know what it takes to succeed more than their captain and that instinct goes beyond just the aforementioned statistics. Momentum in the playoffs is everything and Villa will need to lead the line for New York on Wednesday if they are to stand any chance of a deep run in the post season.
Let Me Root Root Root for the Home Team: No, it hasn’t gotten old yet. While Yankee Stadium is indeed a gorgeous venue, it’s continued inability to meet FIFA standards is a blemish on MLS’ integrity and the away sides have more to gripe about than has been allowed by the commissioner. In their inaugural season, not even NYCFC faired well on their home turf, but since then, it has been quite the advantage. Yankee stadium has witnessed just six MLS losses for the home team in the last three seasons and NYCFC have lost just once at home this season. They have built a distinct style of play around their small pitch and everything from the strange angles of the field, the varying grass lengths of the baseball field, and the adjustment necessary when judging passing distances, to the sheer banality of walking across a pitcher’s mound after the anthem makes for a tough outing for visitors.
Clinch It: Torrent and his charges find themselves just two points away from clinching a playoff spot. The post-season is an inevitability at this point but the sooner that they can get that pressure off of their shoulders, the better. It is safe to assume that NYCFC will come out of the gates with an all-out attacking mindset looking to overwhelm the visitors from the off.
MLS Voodoo: An additional caveat to Yankee Stadium’s advantages and the fulfillment of our obligations to MLS history, the Fire have yet to win away to NYCFC.
Weaknesses: With David Villa back to fitness and hitting great form we’ll have to look elsewhere in this iteration of NYCFC’s potential shortcomings. Let’s see where they might struggle on Wednesday.
Puedo Volver?: While Domenec Torrent found himself in our strengths column in June, he is not as fortunate this time around. NYCFC has won just once in their last nine matches—a 3-2 away victory against struggling Toronto—and have lost five of the fifteen matches played under the leadership of the Spaniard. While there is always an adjustment period when moving to MLS, it seems as if too much tinkering has been the culprit in Torrent’s attempt at conquering the league.
A move away from Vieira’s patented 3-4-3 (a system which earned him 1.87 PPG) has seen Torrent tinker with a 3-5-2, a 4-3-3, and recently a 4-4-2 diamond with just about every set of tactical instructions imaginable hurled at his players. The result? A 0.75 PPG that might even make Paunovic blush and the deterioration of a Supporters Shield dream. Granted, there have been extensive injuries, international call ups, and growing pains, but Torrent is already starting to throw out excuses that require the accompaniment of a tiny violin.
Stating that he doesn’t have the personnel for his ideal 4-3-3, complaints about the grueling travel schedule and fixture congestion of MLS, and a bizarre exclamation that building a unique and beautiful style is his overall goal are not exactly what NYCFC fans want to hear from a side that was playing some of the league’s most attractive soccer in June. If Chicago can score early in this one, another hiccup could wreak havoc on the psyche of the hosts.
The Goal Well Has Dried Up: Part of the recent dip in form which stretches from the tactical changes imposed by Torrent has been a lack of a goal scoring threat. Four goals in their last six matches (including a Montreal own goal at the weekend) is simply not what onlookers have come to expect from this New York side. Just three weeks ago NYCFC was second only to Atlanta United in the goal scoring department but now finds itself behind the Red Bulls and both of the LA sides as well and could realistically be behind SKC and Toronto after this weekend. Villa’s aforementioned struggles coupled with a lack of production from 800k man Jo Inge Berget (a rare miss for the City Football Group) have left Torrent scratching his head.
Chance creation continues to be a genuine possibility with the likes of Moralez and Matarrita pulling the strings in midfield but the conservative approach of deploying thirty-three-year-old Eloi Amagat and defensive midfielder Alex Ring next to them nullifies that. Amagat spent most of his career with Girona and knows Torrent well from the coach’s time at the helm of his hometown club. Additionally, Girona is also owned by City Football group and this last contract could be a reward for helping to pull the club up to the first division for the first time in half a decade. It isn’t exactly and inspiring roster move or a way of rewarding Rodney Wallace, Tajouri-Shradi, or Jonathan Lewis who have fought to earn their right in the squad through their attack minded play.
Prediction: Reality will continue to rain down on Chicago as the draw against the Revolution and a win over Orlando disappear into the rear view. NYCFC 4-1. Villa, Tajouri-Shradi, Moralez, and Castellanos batter the visitors, Yura Movsisyan notches his first goal for the Fire.