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NYCFC Tactics Time: How To Beat the Colorado Rapids

The Art of Winning Against The Worst Team in MLS

MLS: Colorado Rapids at New York City FC
Jack Harrison (left) blows by several Rapids defenders during a 5-1 win last season
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s game against the Portland Timbers was gutting for several reasons. New York City FC lost at home for the first time in 9 games, and did so against an elite Western Conference opponent without the benefit of it’s first-choice striker. Even more egregious was the fact that Andrea Pirlo gave the ball away in his own half and the Timbers scored the lone goal 10 seconds later.

That being said, all is not bleak for the Boys in Blue. David Villa and Alex Ring may be in line to return from injury to face the worst team in MLS, Colorado Rapids.

After such a crushing home defeat, taking out their anger on a team going nowhere fast like Colorado is like shooting fish in a barrel. These tactical adjustments should make this match even easier.

Line Up Like This

4-3-3: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Brillant, Allen; Pirlo; Moralez, McNamara; Wallace, Harrison; Villa

The defense, which has been decimated by injuries, continues to be...well...decimated by injuries. Alex Callens remains the only first-choice starter that isn’t currently on the mend. Of course, Ben Sweat has been fine in relief of the injured Ronald Matarrita, and the play of Frederic Brillant in particular has been exceptional.

Even after last week’s atrocity, Andrea Pirlo returns to the starting XI. Patrick Vieira’s decision to play him the full 90 against Sporting KC shows that he has confidence in Pirlo if he is playing an offensively-challenged side, which certainly applies to the Rapids. His reluctance to give youngsters Kwame Awuah and !!!JAMES SANDS!!! any playing time despite both of them being named in the squad for the Portland and Kansas City clashes reaffirms his commitment to Pirlo. Maxi Moralez and fill-in captain Tommy McNamara return to their preferred attacking midfield roles.

In NYCFC’s last match, Vieira spurned Sean Okoli in favor of playing Jack Harrison as a false nine, which produced zero goals. With David Villa potentially back from injury, the front three can return to normalcy, with Harrison and Rodney Wallace back on the wings. If David Villa isn’t fit come match day, Okoli will have to slide in and make up for his mixed performance against Kansas City.

2. Centralize the attack around Maxi Moralez

MLS: Sporting KC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids finished second-best in the MLS regular season last year, they excelled at preventing teams from getting wide and playing the ball back into the box. They loved to win possession, quickly counterattack, and slot away the one goal they would need to secure victory. It’s very similar to the style Sporting KC are using to catapult into the playoffs.

While Mastroeni is now gone and Steve Cooke’s performance as interim manager is best summed up as putting duct tape on the hull of the Titanic, Colorado is still committed to defending the wings above all else. The difference between last year and this year is that they have undergone both significant turnover and a noticeable drop in the talent level. This has led to them struggling to consistently defend attacking-minded midfielders from either creating or distributing from a central position.

Maxi Moralez took on David Villa’s role of primary offensive threat in the two matches the Spaniard sat out. He’s been given more freedom in terms of where he can roam around on the field and what he can do with the ball at his feet. David Villa and his goal-scoring magic will probably be needed, but if Villa is not 100%, it’ll be up to Frasquito to spearhead the attack against a team struggling to stop such things in recent weeks.

3. Stop the DPs, Stop the Rapids

MLS: D.C. United at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Rapids are a poor side overall, but have a few bright spots, particularly on either flank. Marlon Hairston plays a similar role to that of Ronald Matarrita, as he is an extremely pacy right back and right winger that likes to get forward. Shkelzen Gashi and Dillon Serna are two complete players who star on the wings in Colorado’s preferred 4-4-2. Kevin Doyle can score every now again.

The problem with the Rapids this year is a similar problem NYCFC had in their inaugural season. They are overly reliant on their designated player(s). Under Jason Kreis, many an offensive possession came to an end when someone would force-feed David Villa the ball and hope he would make something out of it. The Rapids fall into this same trap of hoping Gashi and former DP Doyle will simply make something out of nothing.

Last season, Colorado’s attack was more varied and fluid, producing ten goals out of Gashi, who was in more of a wide attacking role as compared to him being deployed all over the pitch this season, and seven from Kevin Doyle. This season, they have been exceedingly less effective. In keeping with Steve Cooke’s philosophy of doing the same things Mastroeni did with considerably less squad cohesion and quality, he will try to force the ball towards those designated players. Stopping the DPs, the biggest names on the club, might sound trite, but is the easiest way to quell the Rapids offense.

4. Remember What Won You the Last Meeting

MLS: Colorado Rapids at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these two teams met, Frank Lampard recorded the first hat trick in the history of the club in a lightning-delayed 5-1 romp. While these Rapids find themselves on the other end of the table, they remain, at least tactically, a very similar squad. Tim Howard is still in goal and, therefore, is still inconsistent in goal. They will be aggressive defensively, which can get them into a trouble as it pertains to their discipline. They like to defend and attack from a wide position. They feed their DPs the ball.

Last time out, with a squad that had no David Villa but featured Tony Taylor (who scored alongside Stiven Mendoza), Jefferson Mena, and Diego Martinez, while playing against the then-best defensive team in MLS, NYCFC won convincingly. A Micheal Azira red card, poor passing, and shoddy defense were the 3 biggest nails in Colorado’s coffin. In 2017, all a better equipped NYCFC squad has to do is exploit the faults in the Rapids’ style. It knee-capped them when they were good; imagine what could happen if NYCFC executes according to plan against a basement-dweller like this year’s Rapids squad.