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Dynamism in the Diamond: NYCFC vs Houston Dynamo Match Review

From "An NYCFC State of Mind" - An opinion piece that explores the tactical elements of the NYCvHOU game

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

We have seen NYCFC start in various formations since March, ranging from flat 4-4-2s to wide 4-2-3-1s. For all intents and purposes, Kreis has spent the better part of the last three months swapping and rotating players in and out of position simultaneously in an effort to find the best formation for the team. To this date we have yet to see any combination really make an impact on NYCFC's games for the better, but on Saturday, the introduction of the diamond into the 4-4-2 yielded a much more dynamic--and in my opinion, much better--style of play.

NYCvHOU Starting XI

NYCvHOU Starting XI

the beauty of a diamond

Above is a representation of our starting eleven. Historically, when Kreis has employed the 4-4-2 he has opted for a flat 4, or a setup in which the midfield is arranged in a more linear fashion as opposed to what you see above. As we've seen in past games, that particular approach often results in stagnant play and square passing with very few bursts of creativity to get the ball forward. By implementing a diamond instead, we see the midfield narrow significantly, with a clear playmaker (what in theory would be your traditional 10) pushed up right beneath the two forwards, two attacking midfielders operating just beneath him, and a defensive midfielder pulled back to sit right above the two center backs. By removing essential wingers in the middle of the pitch, both the left and the right backs are now tasked with tracking up and down the left and right corridors of the field, respectively.

Orchestrating a 4-4-2 diamond can be risky, as it utilizes the LB and RB in more advanced positions and may in turn leave the backline vulnerable to counterattacks. NYCFC did a much better job mitigating the threat of any breakaways when Houston had possession, though, performing arguably one of their best defensive games in awhile--excluding the goal that was conceded. A great deal of the relative success of the diamond hinges on the defensive midfielder, and I have to say that Jacobson did a fantastic job shouldering that incredibly important role in this formation.

implementation

The holding midfielder can be the linchpin of most formations that are dependent upon his multitasking capabilities. While the pinnacle of the diamond is considered to be the playmaker, the bottom of the diamond too can have a subtle impact on the pulse of the match, making passes from deep and helping solidify player connection. In a staggered setup such as this, the pairings and triangles are vital to help work the ball through the midfield. Jacobson had an 80% success rate for passing in this holding position, funneling balls to both his midfielders and his defenders across the pitch in addition to the few key defensive plays he executed. His versatility during Saturday's game was promising, and I'd like to see Kreis keep him there the next time this formation is tried.

For the rest of midfield, things did not appear to click until the subs rolled in around minute 60. When Shelton was brought on in Velasquez's place, Diskerud shifted to the top of the diamond while Shelton settled onto the right side of the field. It was the Poku substitution ten minutes later that breathed new life into the game, however; there is something absolutely fearless with how Poku plays, his aggressive runs providing right kind of energy that NYCFC needs to invoke the dynamism of the diamond. It was evident on numerous occasions during the match when he elected to make brazen plays instead of safely passing to a teammate, sprinting through the defenders up the left-hand side and right into the box.

It is key to acknowledge that his movement is never careless--there's always intelligent intention behind what he does, his resolve making him that much more confident on the pitch. He's a good complement to Villa, a player that has shown game after game that same driving tendency, a tendency that consequently catches much of midfield off-pace and results in the turnovers NYCFC sees in the final third so often. There is no doubt in my mind that Poku could be instrumental in Kreis' endeavor to build a solid midfield, but he is the type of player that really should see a full 90 minutes. For what he's done for NYCFC thus far this season, he has more than earned a starting spot.

Brovsky

Jeb Brovsky

For their parts, Wingert and Brovsky did well to cover the exposed territory along the sides of the pitch. Wingert tracked a bit further up the field than Brovsky, but both demonstrated an equal amount of understanding of their responsibilities; there were several important clearances, recoveries, and tackles made in NYCFC's half by both of them, six of which were in the box. Having a defensive-minded LB was to the team's benefit, as it helped cover that possible weakness that the 4-4-2 diamond may expose, yet it's equally as critical that NYCFC strikes a balance in placing the appropriate mix of player styles on the field in the future.

Brovsky's two headers that should have been goals were an example of this balance, off-setting Wingert's defensive presence. His second-half performance was very strong, rife with the daring chances and attempts on goal that could have very well put NYCFC ahead. Like with Jacobson, I'd like to see Brovsky play this position again, with this formation. After watching the players in what seems to be their natural positions, I'm going to tweak my desired formation and say that I'd be curious to see Kreis make the following adjustments to the starting eleven:

Suggested XI

Suggested Starting XI

On paper I understand what Kreis is going for by having Nemec and Villa together (In that, Nemec CAN be a long cross, dropped-ball target), but so far I have yet to see any real ferocity from the Slovakian that speaks to his want for goals. This is why I will continue to opt for Mullins up front; Mullins seems to understand Villa's pace and his impulses. Although his inexperience is what causes the occasional disconnect between the two of them, the more time they spend together, the better they will get playing in tandem.

Getting Diskerud closer to the box is going to be beneficial to both the forwards and the rest of midfield, and even then I could see Lampard swapping out with him if necessary. Both are more than capable of changing the game from this position, whether it's by scoring goals or assisting the strikers. Further down the pitch, Poku and Shelton as the attacking midfielders have a lot of potential to be dangerous, with Jacobson at the bottom again.

The rallying determination was much better on all fronts for the team when compared to the game against Real Salt Lake. Better energy, better movement on and off the ball, and improved captaincy from Villa--all huge factors that will continue to boost NYCFC's confidence. The real test is going to come when we see this determination persist over the course of several subsequent matches, when the players start converting chances into goals, and when NYCFC finally begins to win again.

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This entry is from my personal blog "An NYCFC State of Mind", a site that is dedicated to releasing weekly game reviews that strives to go beyond simple analyses of NYCFC's matches. For comprehensive reviews for the rest of NYCFC's games, visit An NYCFC State of Mind. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.