MLS Tactical Analysis: New York City FC vs Real Salt Lake 4:0



New York City FC

  1. Johnson / 3. Tinnerholm, 4. Chanot, 6. Callens, 22. Matarrita / 10. Moralez, 12. Ofori, 30. Herrera / 29. Tajouri, 19. Medina, 9. Berget

Real Salt Lake

  1. Rimando / 12. Lennon, 4. Horst, 15. Glad, 3. Henley / 5. Beckerman, 6. Kreilach / 7. Savarino, 11. Rusnak, 27. Baird / 20. Silva

New York City FC’s tactic and Real Salt Lake’ systematic flaw overwhelmed the visitor’s defense. The game had finished before the first half ended.

Patrick Vieira tore apart Real Salt Lake with a brilliant offensive strategy

New York City struggled in the offense earlier this season; they could dominate the possession, but their build-up couldn’t transition into the attacking phase. They over-complicated their passes because they hadn’t figured out an optimal way to attack.

But they had a plan on Wednesday. When they attacked, New York City’s players split into two units; the two center backs and the two/three central midfielders controlled the possession during the initial build-up. The three forwards and sometimes Yangel Herrera flooded the middle in the final third with the support of the surging fullbacks:


New York City connected the two units through long passes. They abandoned those short passes that had caused them problems during the build-up. Maximiliano Moralez delivered most of the long balls in the early period of the first half. He didn’t attempt to dribble or play one-touch passes. By keeping things simple, he set the tone. Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens soon followed and started sending the long ball forward.

New York City’s first unit could gauge the passing lane because Salt Lake didn’t press high with pressure. They wanted to sit deep and stayed compact in the middle to deter the host from penetrating the center. But New York City rarely attempted to attack there and rendered Salt Lake’s defensive strategy useless. The host’s attackers had time to move into the proper positions, and the passers had the freedom to pick the optimal pass.

Their pass target was the fullback. New York City overloaded the center in front of the defenders. Salt Lake needed all four defenders prevent being overloaded, so every defender was occupied. They had to congest the center and couldn’t cover the flank. New York City exploited these areas:

Salt Lake’s defensive plan also backfired; the best way to stop New York City’s attack was to press the passer, but they didn’t have enough pressure in a 4-5-1 and practically gave up the first line of the defense. You can’t press with only one player. If they intended to sit deep, they should have enough players to guard the center, and some of the midfielders could mark New York City’s forwards and free the fullbacks to cover the flank. The wingers should also have marked Anton Tinnerholm and Ronald Matarrita to help the defense, but they didn’t. Although the wingers started in the correct positions, they didn’t realize that New York City’s attackers had occupied their defender teammates. They thought that they could pass on the marking duties to the defenders when they should have stuck to their men. New York City kept attacking through their fullbacks, and Salt Lake could only hold up for 11 minutes.

Salt Lake’s defensive miss-step allowed the host to control the offense. Vieira’s tactic also killed two birds with one stone: It prevented New York City from getting caught in the transition due to the miss-pass and executed a more potent attack.

Real Salt Lake couldn’t transition into the offensive phase

The visitor ceded the control of the match to New York City. The host could always transition into the offensive phase. Everyone could always move to the preferred attacking position. Salt Lake had to retreat and tried to cover any gap in numbers. They tried to overload the defense and became underloaded in the offense.

When you park the bus, you want to have a plan to get out once you regain the possession. Because you have eight or nine players around the box, you don’t have a legitimate passing target to advance the possession if the players don’t move into the proper positions quickly. Salt Lake didn’t have such plan. They parked the bus and were forced to keep parking forever. New York City’s players also didn’t let them transition; the host attacked the ball as soon as they lost the possession. They pressure Salt Lake’s ball handler early and forced him to clear the ball. New York City build-up unit always had four to five players around the half-line against one Salt Lake’s attacker. They could regain the ball and reinitiated the attack.

Salt Lake conceded the possession and determined to sit deep. But they couldn’t transition into the offensive phase when they had the ball. New York City maintained a constant pressure with its counter-pressing and often regained the possession in Salt Lake’s final third. They could immediately attack the host in dangerous positions and scored the second goal.

Game over before the end of the first half

Berget has been fantastic this season. He is smart and he works hard. He played as the left-winger in this game and used smart movement to create space for his teammates:

When he moved inside, he created confusion to Salt Lake’s defenders. He pulled the defenders toward him and exposed the visitor’s already fragile defense on the flank.

Salt Lake adjusted its approach after conceding the second goal. They confronted New York’s build-up unit early with high pressure. For about ten minutes the visitor had regained some control of the game. They could attack deeper in the host’s final third and created some chances.

New York City’s efficient use of the fullback and the long ball meant that the visitor had to scramble between the flanks to defend the crosses. The host stretched Salt Lake’s defense and eventually opened the area in the center. The game ended when they scored the third goal through a penetration in the middle.

Salt Lake’s midfield defense has struggled all season. They should change the formation; with Kyle Beckerman and Albert Rusnak, they don’t need two other wingers to attack. Introduce an extra defensive midfielder to do the dirty work and anchor the midfield defense with a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2. They will not able to get out of this slump if they don’t fix the midfield.

When you do well against a team with an obvious problem like Salt Lake, you don’t want to get over-excited. New York City’s performance in this game is an exception; They didn’t just go into the match and probe for a mistake. They executed a plan and shattered Salt Lake’s defense. Compare their performance from a few weeks ago and you can see what a great job Vieira has done for that short period of time.

New York City are stacked; David Villa will return to the starting line-up soon. Will he replace Berget? You want the Norwegian’s tireless work ethic. One option is to play Berget as the central forward and have Villa cutting in from the flank.

Other teams will also respond to New York City’s tactic; they will press aggressively against New York’s build-up. You want to insert Alexander Ring back to the starting lineup when that time comes. Their midfield is working fine now, but Ebenezer Ofori and Herrera can be erratic when pressured. Ring is press-resistant and should allow them to break through the opponent’s high pressure.

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