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Tactics Time: How To Bounce Back Against Dallas

After the nightmare in Portland, can NYCFC get back on track?

MLS: New York City FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It would have been naive and short-sighted to believe that New York City FC would go undefeated for the rest of the regular season. Despite the squad’s amazing early season performance — which still sees them at the top of the Eastern Conference — a loss was in the cards for some time now.

Losing like they did in Portland, however, was shocking in how poor it was.

Western Conference cellar-dwellers Portland Timbers smoked NYCFC 3-0 at Providence Park. While Diego Valeri was given free reign in the midfield and Fanendo Adi certainly played well, the loss was more attributable to City’s atrocious play. Sean Johnson and Alex Callens’ miscommunication let in the first goal of the contest, and there was no creativity in the final third whatsoever.

Oh, and Rodney Wallace... need I say more?

To pour salt in the wound, NYCFC’s next opponent is an undefeated FC Dallas side that has never been beaten by the Boys in Blue and has conceded only 3 (!!) goals so far this season. To say the least, City needs to play well if they want any momentum heading into the first Hudson River Derby against the New York Red Bulls next weekend. Here is what Patrick Vieira can do to topple the Toros.

  1. Line Up Like This

4-1-2-1-2: Johnson; Matarrita, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Ring, Herrera, Moralez; Berget, Villa, Medina

Bench: Stuver, Hountondji, Sweat, Abdul-Salaam, McNamara, Ofori, Lewis

We at Hudson River Blue have criticized Patrick Vieira for being to rigid in his 4-3-3 formation. This year, his 4-3-3 has often times shifted mid game to a 4-2-3-1 look.

Jo Inge Berget starts with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi still out with his hamstring injury. The Norweigan is a solid hold-up player/false 9/attacking mid, but doesn’t possess the skillset of a traditional MLS striker or winger. With Vieira having shown trust in Jesus Medina as a striker before, Berget as a false 9 with David Villa and the Paraguyan making runs into the box may be the system that benefits the three attackers equally. Maybe this decision is a bit too cathartic, but Rodney Wallace gets dropped in favor of Jonathan Lewis. Given his performance over the past year, there is no reason to justify Wallace making the squad over Lewis, or even Berget at this point. Wallace — a constant on the left wing to this point — hasn’t scored in 17 full games worth of minutes dating back to last May.

Yangel Herrera starts over Ebenezer Ofori. If the last game was an audition to see if he could secure a starting spot, Ofori’s wildly inconsistent play didn’t inspire confidence. Alex Ring and Maxi Moralez start in their usual roles. Tommy McNamara has appeared on the bench with regularity, but that hasn’t translated into any consistent game action. That has to make one wonder about his future with NYCFC.

With NYCFC needing some offensive juice, Ronald Matarrita is the starting left back for this one. Ben Sweat’s defensive skills will be relegated to a likely appearance off the bench. Though his first seven games of the year were very impressive, Sean Johnson had an afternoon to forget in Portland. Still, he’s the goalie. The usual suspects at center back (Callens and Maxime Chanot) are once again featured, as is Anton Tinnerholm at right back. Cedric Hountondji is on the bench over Sebastian Ibeagha, as is Saad-Abdul-Salaam.

2. Force Dallas’ defensive midfield to come further up the pitch. The counter attack will be vital.

MLS: FC Dallas at New England Revolution Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

In their last two matches, Dallas manager and evil genius Oscar Pareja eschewed his classic 4-2-3-1 with Mauro Diaz running the show as an attacking midfielder in favor of an ultra-defensive 4-4-2. This has led to homegrown player Victor Ulloa and former first-round draft pick Jacori Hayes being deployed in the middle of the formation with Diaz on the bench. Pair him with new singing Anton Nedyalkov and USMNT center back Matt Hedges, and you get a stingy defense. With two wins in as many games with this strategy, Pareja shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken.

Ulloa and Hayes are both excellent midfielders. They have the speed of wingers and the toughness of center backs. Going forward, they can be problematic. With Dallas ranking 17th in the league in possession in their own third, they push forward more than most. If NYCFC want to break through against the best defense in the league, they need to utilize the counter attack. If they allow Dallas to sit back and their destroyers in their midfield to roam free, they’ll never break through. It’ll be a repeat of Portland.

3. Don’t allow Dallas’ pacy attackers to run with the ball. Be physical.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What makes Dallas a unique side is that they are an ultra-defensive squad with extremely pacy wingers. When NYCFC took on good defenses like the Sporting Kansas City squad of yesteryear, their opposition was slower, bigger, and more technical. The Toros’ pace, however, presents a new challenge.

In their new 4-4-2, Belgian international Roland Lamah has moved to a traditional striker role. His blistering speed opposite either Maxi Urruti or Cristian Colman has been effective enough to give Dallas an above-average attack. NYCFC has some pace, but their center backs are both not particularly fleet of foot. If Chanot and Callens sit back and let them run with the ball like they let Valeri and Adi do, Dallas will be peppering Sean Johnson all day long.

Callens and Chanot have played their best when they were given leeway to force strikers off the ball and get them out of their comfort zone. All three of Dallas’ attackers aren’t particuarly great with their backs to goal. Keeping them away from the 18-yard box and the open field is a must for NYCFC to emerge victorious.

4. Be prepared to run for 90 minutes. Dallas plays an up-tempo style.

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The trademark of FCD — and any Oscar Pareja coached team — is hard work and tenacity. Dallas plays at warp speed, constantly pressuring opposing teams for 90 minutes and forcing them to play out of their element.

NYCFC have a tendency to get a little too passive and stagnant. Too often, players are standing around waiting for plays to develop and passing the ball inconsequentially back and forth. Dallas is set up in a way that they will be more than happy to lock down defensively and take the points or pounce on any lackadaisical move to score.

City have to get on their horse and be willing to match Dallas’ tempo. Within the context of this game, playing fast and looking lively is a must. With the Red Bulls coming up, NYCFC can’t afford to have two consecutive performances in which they look bereft of ideas, creativity, and/or drive. If they do, they might as well hand their New Jersey-based rivals three points before the game is ever played.

What do you think NYCFC needs to do? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @hudsonriverblue