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Tactics Time: How to Topple San Jose

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How can NYCFC beat a revamped Earthquakes lineup?

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at New York City FC Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

As MLS Week 5 begins, New York City FC have to be pretty pleased with how their season has turned out so far. Despite not having David Villa or Alex Ring for key matchups, they have yet to taste defeat, taking 10 points from their first four matches.

For the first time this season, the Boys in Blue will hit up the West Coast for a duel with the San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes may be the team that has endured the most changes throughout the league since entering 2018. Gone is Dominic Kinnear and his ultra defensive style. In is hot-shot Swedish manager Mikael Stahre, who has created an Earthquakes side that plays with pace and finishes ruthlessly in front of goal.

With Ring still on the mend, the squad having dropped points for the first time this season, and the fact that San Jose’s offense is now a legit threat, Patrick Vieira has his work cut out for him.

Unless, he sticks to these principles.

  1. Line Up Like This

4-3-3: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Ofori, Herrera, Moralez; Tajouri-Shradi, Medina, Villa

Bench: Stuver, Ibeagha, Abdul-Salaam, Awuah, McNamara, Wallace, Berget

David Villa was inactive for the second straight game, but the captain gave confirmation via Twitter that he is ready to go for this match. In his stead, Ismael Tajorui-Shradi netted twice to seal a 2-2 draw. Dropping Rodney Wallace for the Libyan isn’t necessarily due to Wallace’s poor performance. Rather, Tajorui is in such good form Vieira would be foolish to keep him on the bench. After a solid — if not wildly inconsistent — debut, Jo Inge Berget once again finds himself available as a sub.

Ebenezer Ofori’s first start for NYCFC didn’t go so well, as he looked a bit overwhelmed in his first crack at first time minutes. However, he is the best option NYCFC has for the time being, as no one has seen enough of Kwame Awuah or James Sands to declare them viable alternatives. Maxi Moralez returns to his attacking midfield role, while Yangel Herrera — who has been all over the map early in this campaign — is once again included in the XI.

Anton Tinnerholm was on the bench last week after missing the previous clash with Orlando City, but he should be thought of as irreplacible when healthy. The standard back four of Ben Sweat, Alex Callens, and Maxime Chanot remains intact. Saad Abdul-Salaam seems fimrly entrenched as the backup right back, whereas Sebastian Ibeagha remains the backup center back. It’s still unknown where new center back Cedric Houndtonji — who has yet to debut — fits into things.

2. San Jose’s wing players are as deadly as they come. Force the into the center and nullify their pace.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Earthquakes of the last couple years consisted of very ugly, slow games focused around 1-0 wins wherein Chris Wondolowski would poke a goal past a sleeping keeper in the dying minutes. Mikael Stahre has completely flipped the script.

Designated player Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili — a Georgian international signed from Dutch side Vitesse — has been as statistically impressive as one could have hoped through two matches, having scored and assisted on two goals each. Dutch striker Danny Hoesen has also been a revelation early on this season. And while he hasn’t been featured in the first team just yet in 2018, attacking midfielder and DP Jahmir Hyka could be a game-changing weapon moving forward.

Though the team sheet may say they play a 4-4-2 with Wondo and Hoesen as strikers, their offense is more complex than that. Often times, Wondolowski acts as a center forward/second striker in the Dennis Bergkamp mold. His presence in the middle of the field allows Qazaishvili and Hoesen to use their pace from wide positions where they can make runs into the box, or otherwise showcase their individual creativity.

Stahre’s offense does a good job of isolating defenders in one-on-one matchups with his skilled wingers. Sweat and Tinnerholm will have to thwart their pace and creativity advantages by forcing them into the middle of the field. While they are by no means neutralized, the chance for a moment of individual quality that sinks NYCFC’s ship are severely ruined when they can’t simply use speed or athleticism to get past the defense.

3. The onus is on Maxi Moralez to run the attack and exploit their midfield weakness.

MLS: New York City FC at New England Revolution Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

NYCFC and their fans know no other reality than David Villa running the show. The amount of times the Spanish legend has put his head down and turned back the clock to his Valencia or Barcelona days to bring NYCFC a win is innumerable. However, San Jose’s defense — while a bit uneven — typically does do a good job at taking away a team’s main scoring option.

Against both Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United, San Jose limited their opposing strikers to two combined shots on goal. More often than not, if Villa only gets two shots on goal in a game, NYCFC are on the wrong end of a beat-down.

While they excel at defending the no. 9 position, however, San Jose’s defensive midfield is very poor, conceding four goals from midfield positions. In Stahre’s fluid 4-4-2, the midfield is patrolled by Florian Jungwirth and Anibal Godoy. Godoy — a Panamanian international — plays like “Milan/Juventus” Andrea Pirlo one game, and “New York City” Pirlo the next, while Jungwirth is a center back being thrust into an uncomfortable, more forward position. To boot, new goalie Andrew Tarbell has shown problems with stopping long shots.

These should all serve as massive, blinking red lights to Vieira that Moralez needs to be the man for this game. He should constantly have the ball at his feet, create the most chances, and get the most shots off. David Villa is obviously amazing, but when a team’s sole defensive focus is to stop the striker from scoring at the expense of covering the midfield, NYCFC should exploit that weakness.

4. USE. ALL. THREE. SUBS.

MLS: New York City FC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Someone tell Patrick Vieira that you don’t get fined if you use all three substitutions.

After only using one sub last week against the New England Revolution — and almost giving up a point late in the process — Vieira’s miserly attitude toward substitutions needs to be eliminated. The reasoning is twofold.

Through their first two games, San Jose has either scored or conceded six times in the second half, largely due to extreme technical changes. Matching the Quakes in both pace and physicality in the dying minutes of the match may end up sealing a victory for NYCFC.

Second, giving bench players some significant minutes will finally give you a chance to properly evaluate your second unit talent. Could Kwame Awauh or James Sands play Ring’s no. 6 role? Can Jo Inge Berget provide goals off the bench from a wing position? Where is Tommy McNamara best suited? The answers to these questions won’t materialize by icing them on the bench.

What do you think NYCFC needs to do? Let us know in the comments!