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Tactics Time: How To Grab A Win At LAFC

After ‘Red Wedding II’, can NYCFC get back on track?

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York City at Columbus Crew Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

While we here at Hudson River Blue often criticize Patrick Vieira for being too rigid in his tactics, he actually surprised us during New York City FC’s match against the New York Red Bulls. Vieira boldly instructed his players to forget everything about how to play soccer. While it certainly was an innovative move, I doubt he’ll do it again based on how the result ended up.

The 4-0 drubbing in New Jersey can do one of two things for NYCFC. It can either send them into a downward spiral the likes of which will torpedo their season, or serve as the kick in the ass the team needs if it wants to end the year with some silverware.

The first post-Red Bulls match comes against Los Angeles FC at the shiny, new Banc of California Stadium. LAFC have been a dynamite side to begin the year (save for them getting Zlatan’d in his first MLS game). With athleticism at all positions, a terrific midfield, and maybe the best player in MLS, it’s hardly a free three points. Here’s what Vieira and NYCFC have to do in order to get back in form.

  1. Line Up Like This

4-2-2-2: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Ring, Ofori; Tajouri-Shradi, Moralez; Medina, Villa

Bench: Stuver, Matarrita, Abdul-Salaam, Ibeagha, Berget, McNamara, Herrera

After Red Bulls exposed NYCFC’s problems in a 4-3-3 formation, it might be time for a change. The 4-2-2-2 offers good width and the ability for wide players to drift into the center of the situation necessitates it.

Up top, David Villa and Jesus Medina are the strikers. Vieira has deployed Medina as a striker when Villa was out, and he performed noticeably well. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Maxi Moralez are out wide. Moralez was bullied by Tyler Adams and company last time out. He has experience out wide, and his pace and short passing should translate well. Jo Inge Berget is on the bench, as is the seldom used Tommy McNamara. Vieira may have finally reached a breaking point with Yangel Herrera. As such, Ebenezer Ofori should finally supplant him in the lineup. Alex Ring still has his starting spot safe.

The back four got a good chunk of the criticism for the poor performance against NYRB, and deservedly so; they looked totally shellshocked. Still, there aren’t any other alternatives to supplant anyone in the back just yet. Sean Johnson gets the start in goal even after letting four past him. Ben Sweat gets the nod over Ronald Matarrita, who once again finds himself on the bench. Alex Callens and Maxime Chanot were completely worked for 90 minutes last week, but are better options right now than either Sebastian Ibeagha or Cedric Hountondji. Anton Tinnerholm is the right back, with Saad Abdul-Salaam backing him up.

2. LAFC’s strikers play more like False 9s and let the wingers do the goal scoring. Defend them like Sporting Kansas City

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LAFC’s 4-2-3-1 formation has been one of the toughest to stop in MLS. They’ve also managed to pull this off without a true goal-scoring striker. Before his injury, Marcos Urena was staring as a false 9 that would look for one of their talented wingers making a run into the box. Since his injury, Diego Rossi moved from his #10 role to striker, and LAFC haven’t missed a beat.

What really makes them tough is Designated Player Carlos Vela. The Mexican international has been tearing defenses asunder in MLS thus far, and is an early front-runner for MVP. Additionally, Latif Blessing finally looks like he is putting all of the pieces together on the opposite flank. Those two are as good as it gets on the wing.

Another team that plays like this is Sporting Kansas City; former NYCFC winger Khiry Shelton has been a revelation as a hold-up center forward. Despite not scoring a goal, Shelton is at the epicenter of one of the most revolutionary offensive overhauls in MLS. Because of this, typical Kansas City games have gone from ugly 1-0 slugfests to offensive shootouts.

NYCFC beat SKC 2-0 on the road earlier in the year by shutting down the wings. With a roadmap on how to beat them out in the open, LAFC acquired Lee Nguyen. Nguyen paired with Benny Feilhaber in the midfield is a deadly enough pair to make teams think twice about giving them free reign of the middle of the pitch. Still, letting them see more of the ball as opposed to Vela would be the more prudent strategy.

3. Counter LAFC’s up-tempo, compressed style by spacing them wide and using quick passes.

MLS: FC Dallas at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Bradley’s side isn’t dissimilar to many of his USMNT or Swansea teams. They like to funnel all the action into the middle of the field and get quick counter attacks off of turnovers. You know who else likes to play like that? Red Bulls.

Walker Zimmermann and Belgian international Laurent Ciman might be the best center back duo in MLS right now. Forcing Maxi Moralez towards them will make it nigh impossible to create meaningful chances.

Pace and space is the name of this game. Allow Tajouri-Shradi, Moralez and Medina to use their speed on the outside. A Barcelona-esque tiki-taka would allow NYCFC to maximize their advantage in team speed and expose the LAFC backline. While good defenders, neither Ciman or Zimmerman have the pace or quickness to keep up with more skilled players. Atlanta United’s 5-0 drubbing of LAFC is a testament to this.

4. Don’t feel obliged to play out of the back. Shake things up.

MLS: FC Dallas at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Red Bulls’ 4-0 win may have widened an irreparably large hole in NYCFC’s game plan and philosophy. High-pressing NYCFC will get your side some goals. It is possible to bully Maxi Moralez for long stretches. If anything, Yangel Herrera will foul you in a bad spot.

The LAFC matchup is a good chance to wipe the slate clean and try something different tactics wise. Maybe try Ronald Matarrita at left wingand see if he can be a suitable backup for ITS. Give some of the younger, seldom-used players some game experience. Change formation. Play faster.

After losing 3-0 to Arsenal, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea changed formation and style in the 2016-17 Premier League season. They proceeded to win 13 straight en route to a title. Title aspirations may seem lofty, but if the normally stubborn Vieira shows some flexibility, NYCFC might find the perfect recipe for success.