New York City FC’s 2018 campaign got off to a dream start, taking three points away from the notoriously stingy Sporting Kansas City defense in a 2-0 victory on the road. However, resting on what few laurels they have earned would be foolish. More so than any other American league, MLS is an experiment in chaos theory where in the best in the league could be ran off the pitch by the bottom feeders.
LA Galaxy — the most decorated club in MLS — had an uncharacteristically poor season last year, finishing dead last. However, Galaxy have since retooled, trading several big-name talents and bringing in MLS Cup winner Sigi Schmid as manager. Last place or not, Schmid’s sides will always give their opponent a run for their money. Here is a look at what NYCFC can do to take three points from their home opener.
- Line up like this.
4-3-3: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Hountondji, Tinnerholm; Herrera, Ring, Moralez; Wallace, Medina; Villa
Bench: Stuver, Ibeagha, Abdul-Salaam, Matarrita, Ofori, McNamara, Tajouri-Shadri
The biggest change for NYCFC will be in the back line, as stalwart Maxime Chanot was dealt a controversial red card during the Kansas City match. Cedric Hountondji, a 6’5” center back signed from French Ligue 2 side Gazelec Ajaccio in the summer, will make his debut in sky blue. The ongoing Ben Sweat/Ronald Matarrita debate is quick becoming a Hatfield/McCoy standoff. Sweat played well last week, so swapping him wouldn’t make a ton of sense in the short term. Tinnerholm is the right back after a very impressive debut for the Boys in Blue. Sebastian Ibehaga, who played the last few minutes against Kansas City, will return to the bench.
The midfield stays the same, with Yangel Herrera, Alex Ring, and Maxi Moralez reclaiming their positions. While Ring was his usual self and Moralez slotted away NYCFC’s first goal, Herrera’s performance was up and down. His first half was plagued with poor passes and giveaways in his own half. He’s only 20, however, and this was likely a hiccup more than anything. Ebenezer Ofori, signed from Stuttgart, will make his debut on the bench.
The same attacking trio of Rodney Wallace, Jesus Medina, and David Villa return for this match. While I am not the first to rail against Wallace’s recent form, and will certainly not be the last, Patrick Vieira apparently sees something he likes in Wallace that precludes him from dropping the Costa Rican. Medina’s goal capped off a performance that was everything NYCFC fans could have hoped for. Ismael Tajouri-Shadri, who showed good pace and creativity in his brief debut, returns to the bench.
2. Don’t anticipate Galaxy to be defensive without Alessandrini.
Signed from perennial French title challengers Marseille, 28-year-old winger Romain Alessandrini had a fantastic first campaign in MLS, leading the Galaxy with 13 goals and assisting on another 11. His speed, dribbling, and set piece skill could make any coach tear their hair out game-planing for him. Luckily, Vieira won’t have either of those problems on Sunday, as Alessandrini has been ruled out.
Taking the the strongest arrow out of Los Angeles’ quiver could be seen as a death knell for most sides. However, Galaxy’s retooled attack could allow them to keep playing their up-tempo style and not miss a beat.
Giovani dos Santos has been everything they hoped for as a designated player. The speed and technical skill are obvious, but his best asset may be his versatility. While usually deployed as a No. 10 attacking midfielder or a false No. 9 in Schmid’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the loss of Alessandrini may give dos Santos more freedom on the pitch. He could go out wide, line up as a No. 9 striker, or stay in his attacking mid role. His versatility and quality at multiple spots should be the main focus of the NYCFC defense.
With dos Santos stirring the Galaxy’s proverbial drink, their attack still has plenty of bite in it, and NYCFC would be foolish to overlook that simply due to Alessandrini’s absence.
3. Keep play in the middle of the field, as Schmid loves to play with width.
Going back to Sigi Schmid’s successful days with the Seattle Sounders, he loved to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and use pace and width to cross the ball into the box. He’s brought that style to Los Angeles.
His best season in Seattle came in 2014, when he advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals. During that season, he liked to utilize pace out wide to stretch the defense out, then cross the ball in to a tall striker that worked well in the 18-yard box.
Fast forward to 2018, and the Galaxy have been fashioned in a similar mold. Instead of Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle, Galaxy have dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Emmanuel Boateng, all of whom can run and cross well. Instead of Clint Dempsey, Schmid traded fan favorite Gyasi Zardes to Columbus for Ola Kamara, a lethal in-the-box scorer that has burned NYCFC several times.
Tinnerholm and Sweat/Matarrita will have the biggest responsibility on gameday. While both of them can run, it would hard to imagine them beating the Galaxy attackers in a straight sprint. They need to play physical and force the ball toward the middle of the field, as allowing the ball out wide would let the Galaxy dictate the flow and pace of the game.
4. The Galaxy center backs are an inexperienced group. Attack them.
Defense was the undoing for Los Angeles last season. Schmid realized and decided to splurge on a few new bodies to solidify the back. To be fair, he did a solid job. Frenchman Michaël Ciani is a physical center back that gave Fanendo Adi fits last week. Jørgen Skjelvik is their new left back. A Norweigen imported from Eliteserien champions Rosenborg, Skjelvik is an attack-minded left back that loves to get forward. Rolf Feltscher was brought in from Cardiff City, and immediately showcased his pace and skill at defending set pieces. 37-year-old Chelsea and Arsenal legend Ashley Cole is once again the left back.
On paper or in FIFA, their defense looks good. In practice, they need to tighten some things up. Skjelvik, Ciani, and Feltscher have played a combined eight matches with LA. During their match against Portland last week, it was obvious that they haven’t totally gotten in sync with one another. David Villa, Medina, and a revitalized NYCFC attack need to take advantage of this. They must focus their offensive attack on the Galaxy’s new center backs, and test them to see just how firm and effective their partnership is. David Villa’s quality in the box could make or break the outcome of this game.
What else do you think NYCFC need to do to win? Let us know in the comments!