NYCFC just lifted a massive weight from their shoulders when they clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive season, but every New York City fan, player, and coach have their eyes set squarely on a 1st round bye.
And of course, the wounds from Toronto’s 2016 postseason thrashing are still there.
Having earned just 5 of a potential 12 points against Western Conference opponents, NYCFC are stumbling to the finish line. A matchup with the Montreal Impact is next on the docket. The Impact couldn’t take down red-hot Atlanta in their last match, but are just one week removed from going to Toronto and putting up five goals on the league leaders. For a New York City team coming off of a match against Houston wherein they were lucky to escape with 1 point, a road matchup with as lethal a 1-2 punch as there is in MLS isn’t exactly a matchup tailored for the Boys in Blue to excel.
Securing a first round bye will take a tactical masterclass from Patrick Vieira. Here are some tips for him.
- Line Up Like This
4-3-3: Johnson; Matarrita, Callens, Brillant, Struna; Herrera; Ring, Moralez; Wallace, Harrison; Villa
Returning to the starting eleven is left back Ronald Matarrita and defensive midfielder Yangel Herrera. Matarrita was on the bench during NYCFC’s Connecticut excursion, while Herrera will make his return to the squad in this match. Both these players are lynchpins of Vieira’s system when healthy. Getting them back in rhythm is vital for NYCFC to stand a chance in the playoffs. Andraz Struna returns to the starting XI. He recorded the lone assist in NYCFC’s tussle with Houston last week, but still doesn’t look completely in sync with the rest of the team. Still, his attacking mentality could lead to a decisive goal. Andrea Pirlo returns to the bench (finally) in favor of Herrera.
Rodney Wallace is back in the starting lineup. Tommy McNamara is a valuable asset, as he can play several midfield positions and play them all well, but he makes way for a more natural winger in Wallace. David Villa and Harrison are back where they usually lineup. Getting past Laurent Ciman is going to require both of them to be on their A-game.
2. Focus on shutting down Blerim Dzemaili more than Ignacio Piatti
The Impact combination of attacking midfielders Blerim Dzemaili and Ignacio Piatti would strike fear into the most stone-faced managers out there. A designated player on loan from Bologna, Swiss international Dzemaili has had a part in 17 goals (7G, 10A) in just 19 games in MLS. He has impressed so much that he has both usurped Piatti as chief creative force for Montreal and made Mauro Biello change the shape of his formation to better accentuate his talents.
Despite beginning the year with a traditional four-man defense, Biello has switched to a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Belgian international Ciman in the middle of their three-man back line. In addition, Piatti was moved from an attacking midfield position to a center-forward role. With 4 goals and 2 assists in 5 appearances at the position, it’s fair to say the move has worked out.
What this move has done is centalize the attack and entrust it squarely to Dzemaili. As a midfielder with pace, superior field vision, and a propensity to beat the keeper from outside the box, he is a premier offensive threat in MLS. I understand that not making Piatti the main man you want to stop for NYCFC sounds risky, but the Impact’s offense is flowing through Dzemaili. Stopping him will blunt this attack.
What a game for Yangel Herrera to come back for.
3. Be! Aggressive! B-E Aggressive!
The move to three at the back made a healthy Montreal an offensive juggernaut capable of scoring five on Toronto. But their defensive group, already a shaky bunch outside of Ciman, has faltered. Having conceded thirteen times in their last six games, the defense and goalkeeper Evan Bush are currently in shambles. Even when they are playing at their relative best, they have shown to be ultra-aggressive, lunging into tackles and taking risks. This had led to Montreal being ranked in the bottom five in MLS in shots allowed, fouls and goals allowed per game. To boot, they are tied for the league lead in goals conceded via set pieces.
This calls for an ultra-aggressive game plan. Try to make long runs with the ball and draw fouls near the box. Use long shots to your advantage. Play up-tempo and fast. Montreal have been hit hard lately; though NYCFC’s attack has been stuck in 1st gear in recent weeks, going full-throttle against a vulnerable defense is a good way to start revamping the attack.
4. Be mindful of Montreal’s pacy young stars
The “next generation” of Impact stars were starting to get their feet wet in MLS by the time these two clubs had met early on. Now, they are full-fledged threats. Ballou Jean-Yves Talba is an extremely promising 18 year old that was recommended to European titans Chelsea at the behest of former Impact DP and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. Talba is very fast, a fantastic dribbler, and has situational awareness the belies his age. Anthony Jackson-Hamel, a 24 year old who plays opposite Piatti up top, is becoming a legitimate goal threat in MLS. If he gets to full speed, NYCFC have to get a body in front of him instantly, or else he may just find the back of the net.
Oddly enough, NYCFC’s young starlets bear the most responsibility in stopping him. If he gets a much-awaited start, Ronald Matarrita will likely be tasked with marking Jackson-Hamel for most of the match, while Tabla would have to match wits with Herrera should the Venezuelan phenom be called into action. These are two talents who could instantly turn the tide in favor of the Canadiens. Don’t let their age fool you.