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Tactics Time: Can NYCFC Stay Hot in Houston?

Will NYCFC make it two in a row against Las Naranjas?

MLS: Houston Dynamo vs New York City FC David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Without trying to detract from New York City FC’s cathartic 4-0 win on ‘David Villa Day’, a dismantling of a Colorado Rapids side that could generously be described as hapless doesn’t mean that everything is all rosy for the Boys in Blue. Sure, it was nice to exercise any demons that are still left over from the New York Red Bulls atrocity, but NYCFC have a gauntlet of intense match-ups down the pike.

Still, it’s hard to find fault with that win on Saturday. Manager (for now) Patrick Vieira switched to a 3-man backline with Alex Ring as a ball-playing, sweeper center back a la David Luiz. In addition, Jo Inge Berget played in a more natural central striker role, the result being 90 minutes of pure domination.

Their next opponent isn’t in as poor form as Colorado. The Houston Dynamo once again possess one of the quickest, most high-octane offenses in the league, spearheaded by 22-year-old Hondruan international Alberth Elis. With a terrific pair of fullbacks, a clinical finisher at striker, and an experienced manager, Houston is by no means a cakewalk. These few suggestions might help Vieira and the squad slow down the upstart Texans.

  1. Line Up Like This

3-5-2: Johnson; Callens, Ring, Tinnerholm; Ofori, Herrera, Tajorui-Shradi, Medina, Moralez; Villa, Berget

Bench: Stuver, Sweat, Matarrita, Chanot, Awuah, McNamara, Wallace

Vieira’s 3-man formation featured Ronald Matarrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi as wide midfielders crossing in to the striker pair of Berget and Villa. The switch left previous starters Jesus Medina and Anton Tinnerholm frozen out of the starting XI. If Vieira wants to use this formation going forward, he is going to have to find a way to incorporate those two. A Tinnerholm-for-Sebastian Ibeagha swap seems like the most natural fix. Matarrita will make way for ITS on the left side, with Medina on his preferred right hand side.

After weeks of debating whether Yangel Herrera or Ebenezer Ofori should be starting, Vieira decided to call a truce and start both. This week will be a real test of how well the pair work together. Maxi Moralez is back in his usual #10 role.

David Villa eschewed his usual striker position in favor of a center forward role that saw him on the ball more. Berget was the striker, and he performed so admirably that Vieira believed he was the best player on the pitch on an afternoon where Villa bagged a brace on his own holiday.

Ben Sweat, Rodney Wallace, and Tommy McNamara all find themselves back on the bench. The new formation could theoretically give more playing time to James Sands or Kwame Awuah, the latter getting the nod on account of him being more polished than the still very raw Sands. Maxime Chanot will return, but on the bench, as a start may prove too taxing on him right away. If I’m Jonathan Lewis or Cedric Hountondji, I’m requesting a trade, as it seems nothing will get either of them game minutes.

2. Swarm around Elis when he has the ball. Make him extremely uncomfortable

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Dyanmo’s, uh..., dynamic attacking midfielder has risen from quality contributor in 2017 to architect of a fast paced attack in 2018. His six goals and four assists are a testament to his creativity with the ball. No one in MLS has more shots on goal than Elis’ 22.

At just 22 years old, Elis is far from being a savvy, experienced veteran. But his talent is immense, and leaving him unchallenged to exhibit his talent would be unwise. What few teams have stopped him have done so with pressure and physicality.

Part of Maxi Moralez’s dud against Red Bulls was the overwhelming pressure on him when he had the ball by Leipzig-bound Tyler Adams. Elis responds to pressure in much the same way; by trying to make a highlight-reel dribbling move that more often than not results in a giveaway.

Playing on the right side in Houston’s 4-2-3-1, Elis is in a position to get the ball from a wide position or when making an overlapping run into a central area. NYCFC’s chances of winning are inversely correlated with Elis’ play. The better Elis plays, the worse an evening it if for NYCFC.

3. Houston’s fullbacks have enough offensive skill to function as wingers. Stopping them will cut off service into Mauro Manotas.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Managers tend to emphasize players who play positions the manager themselves used to play. Patrick Vieira likes midfielders that can dictate an attack out of the back and finish clinically. Wilmer Cabrera — a former full back — likes for his left and right back to serve as de facto wingers that can push the tempo and feel comfortable further up the pitch.

DaMarcus Beasley — who turned 36 today — is still kicking butt at his left back spot. Andrew Wenger, a modified #10 and right winger during his Philadelphia days, plays right back for Houston.

Playing with width is key to Houston’s offensive gameplan. When their full-backs can play so far up the pitch and cross as well as they can, it’s extremely problematic for the opposition. Add a superb finisher at striker in Mauro Manotas and you have a recipe for disaster for NYCFC,

4. Houston does a good job of shutting down star players. Another attacker will need to rise to the occasion.

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

Houston’s defense won’t keep the likes of NYCFC up late at night, but they do have a habit of neutralizing the opposition’s best player. Against the San Jose Earthquakes, the Dynamo effectively took both Vako Qazaishvili and Danny Hoesen out of the game and off the scoresheet. Vancouver’s Kei Kamara couldn’t find net against Houston, nor could Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the LA Galaxy squared off with them.

With David Villa having scored 3 of NYCFC’s 4 goals against Houston, you can bet he is priority no. 1. Someone else needs to step up. Though he has playing out of position as a winger, Jo Inge Berget having only one goal this season is a bit disappointing. Berget, the revitalized Maxi Moralez, or either one of the young wide midfielders need to be as much a part of the attack as Villa. With superstar goals hard to come by at BBVA Compass stadium, a lesser known player needs to find some twine if NYCFC want to get three points.