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Tactics Time: How to beat the Revolution

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Can NYCFC finally secure that elusive bye?

MLS: New England Revolution at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The task of securing a first-round bye for New York City FC is so tantalizingly close to being completed. Standing in their way is a New England Revolution side on the tail end of a miserable season. What started as a year with playoff aspirations has brought about the end of the Jay Heaps era. As New England showed during their 0-0 draw against Atlanta, they are relishing their role of playoff spoiler.

Patrick Vieira and the Boys in Blue can’t lose focus for a moment, as there is still a chance Atlanta could snatch that second bye, setting up another Hudson River Derby in the playoffs. Here are some suggestions for Vieira to help NYCFC finally lift this weight off of their shoulders.

  1. Line Up Like This

4-3-3: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Brillant, Allen; Herrera; McNamara, Ring; Wallace, Harrison, Villa

No significant changes to the starting XI. Having not scored since May, Rodney Wallace has had a run of extremely poor form. He is squarely under the microscope for Sunday. Tommy McNamara gets the start at midfield in place of Moralez, who is currently serving a yellow card suspension.

Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring return to their respective midfield roles ahead of Andrea Pirlo. Ronald Matarrita and RJ Allen, two offensive minded wing backs, come in against a Revolution team that has had difficulty stopping defenders from getting forward.

2. Watch Lee Nguyen from his new position on the right flank

MLS: Toronto FC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Heaps has been fired since they last met. With interim manager Tom Soehn now patrolling the touchline, the differences are noticeable, if subtle. Soehn has switched to a 4-4-1-1 formation with Juan Agudelo as an attacking midfielder and Lee Nguyen pushed out to the right flank. Soehn has entrusted Nguyen to orchestrate the Revs’ offense. In their draw vs Atlanta, New England attacked from the right side 44% of the time, far greater than their 36% average possession on the right side.

The Revolution are the literal definition of a one-sided attack
Nguyen’s heat map from the Atlanta tilt

Nguyen, who is second on the team in goals with 11 (one behind Kei Kamara’s 12) and first in assists with 9, is the straw that stirs New England’s proverbial drink. Letting him get on the ball against an NYCFC backline he has had success against isn’t an ingredient in the recipe for success. Midfielders Scott Caldwell and Gershon Koffie have struggled against NYCFC. Either one of them piloting New England is certainly preferable to Nguyen.

3. Be fast and aggressive offensively. Don’t hesitate to pull the trigger

MLS: New York City FC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

NYCFC have scored just 1 goal in 6 consecutive matches. While optimists and box-score scouts could spin this run of form as a consistent attacking barrage, the raw stats belie how they have been performing. In the Montreal game in particular, players like Moralez and Wallace would normally let it fly whenever given an adequate chance.

New England is a good team to try out a more aggressive approach against. Cody Cropper being relegated to the bench in favor of the relatively inexperienced Brad Knighton, and their center back duo of Antonio Delamea and Benjamin Angoua isn’t a dominating pair. England call-up Jack Harrison, McNamara, and Villa all need to get decent chances on goal. Beating playoff teams like Toronto and Atlanta is going to be impossible with just one goal on the ledger.

4. Exploit New England’s discipline problem

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New England Revolution David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

This is not a disciplined squad. Full stop.

The Revolution have been prone to untimely bookings in 2017. In their last 4 games, they’ve piled up 4 red cards, including 2 in a 0-7 whipping suffered at the hands of Atlanta. In a meeting in March of 2016, Koffie saw red for a hard challenge on McNamara. NYCFC needs to be aggressive and keep the pressure on New England, enticing their reckless players to dive into unwanted challenges.