- Turner / 2. Farrell, 3. Anibaba, 4. Dieina, 91. Somi / 70. Penilla, 6. Caldwell, 23. Zahibo, 11. Rowe / 14. Fagundez, 10. Bunbury
- Johnson / 13. Abdul-Salaam, 4. Chanot, 6. Callens, 2. Sweat / 12. Ofori, 30. Herrera / 19. Medina, 10. Moralez, 29. Tajouri / 9. Berget
New England dominated New York City
The tactical exchange between New York City FC’s build-up versus New England Revolution’s defense dominated the first-half.
New York City started the game in a 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot in the midfield. Their central midfield had a 2-1 setup; Ebenezer Ofori and Yangel Herrera support the false-10 Maximiliano Moralez. New York City wanted to control the possession and build their attack through the double pivot. They tried to transition into the offensive phase with Ofori and Yangel connecting Moralez and the two wingers.
New England used a 4-4-2 throughout the game. They had a tactical disadvantage when defending against New York City’s build-up: Wilfried Zahibo needed to man-mark Morazlez, so they had only five players (two strikers and three midfielders) to close down six (seven if including the keeper Sean Johnson) New York City’s players in the build-up:
The home team circumvented this disadvantage with a clever defensive scheme. Scott Caldwell couldn’t close down Ofori and Herrera without Zahibo,
so Teal Bunbury and Diego Fagundez stayed in front of Johnson, Maxime Chanot, and Alexander Callens to prevent them from finding Ofori and Herrera in the build-up. They avoided using aggressive close-down against New York City’s center backs. New England stayed compact, with Kelyn Rowe and Cristian Penilla positioning toward the center to support Caldwell.
New York City couldn’t find their double pivot, so they passed to the fullbacks on the flanks. New England’s defense then became more aggressive:
The ball-close striker (Bunbury) stayed close to the center back (Callens) when the winger (Penilla) closed down the fullback in possession (Ben Sweat). The fullback would not find any vertical passing lane and could only find diagonal one toward the double pivot. Caldwell would man-mark the ball-closest midfielder (Herrera). Either Fagúndez or Rowe would mark the ball-far midfielder (Ofori), depending on their teammates’ positions. New England used a similar setup on the other side. The front five New England’s players closed in on the ball when it reached the flank. New York City could have cross-field passed to the fullback on the opposite side. But New England’s pressure and the long distance made the pass difficult. This way, New England neutralized New York City’s numerical disadvantage in the first two lines of the defense.
New York City couldn’t pass to their attackers and kept losing possession in their half for the opening twenty minutes and conceded the opening goal.
Patrick Vieira tried to fix New York City ‘s build-up problem. He introduced a 1-2 setup in the midfield in addition to the 2-1’s double pivot:
The double pivot had always stayed on the same line and made the passing lanes toward them predictable. After switching to a 1-2 setup, Ofori would drop in-between the center backs and created a 3 vs. 2 advantage against Bunbury and Fagundez because Caldwell wouldn’t move out of the midfield to follow Ofori. New York City’s central midfielders now didn’t stay on the same line, so they could create the triangle passing lanes. The pass pattern became unpredictable. Saad Abdul-Salaam and Sweat could push to the midfield, and New York City transitioned into a 3-4-3 in attack. Penilla and Rowe couldn’t compress the center because of the surging fullbacks, so New York City could advance the ball in the center and kept pushing New England’s defense back.
A strange thing happened here; Vieira’s fixes made New York City more vulnerable. They could advance the ball to the midfield, but their entry passes toward the attackers were poor. New England made a lot of interceptions in the midfield. And because New York City’s players had already transitioned into the attacking formation, they left a lot of room at the back for the home team to counter-attack:
New England created even more (and better) chances after being pinned down at the back. With a contrary intention, New York City’s success in controlling and advancing the possession created space for New England to counter-attack. The home team now played the game to their strength because they lacked the creativity to generate space by themselves. New York City did that for them, so they focused on playing a classic counter-attack game. They should have scored another goal in their period. Had they done that, they would have captured all three points.
New England stayed aggressive, maybe too aggressive
In the second half, both teams changed their approaches.
New England wanted to score another goal to kill off the game, so they mounted an aggressive press against the visitor. New York City wanted to transition into the offensive phase better, so they played a more direct way. The defenders looked to find the attackers without going through Ofori and Herrera.
The home team pushed deep into the opponent’s territory to carry out high-pressure presses. All the players moved forward and created space at the back. New York City now looked to pass to their attackers immediately. They often evaded and bypassed New England’s defense and had a lot of success in the attack. They equalized within five minutes of the second half.
New England created another wave of the attack after the equalizer. Penilla is their most creative player. They looked to stretch the visitor and isolated him 1 vs. 1 against New York City’s fullbacks; he assisted the go-ahead goal and almost scored on three other occasions. Jo Berget was New York City’s best player. His hold-up play was their only efficient way to transition into the offensive phase and led to their equalizer.
New York City should have played a more direct approach. They tried to play elaborate tactics, but they lacked the technical finesse to pull them off and put themselves at high risks. It is like watching a basketball game between kids and adults where the adults insist on only shooting from the three-point lines. The season has just started, and Vieira may be trying to practice the tactical part of the game before the playoff starts.