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Tactics Time: How To Take Down Toronto

How will Domenec Torrent’s first NYCFC match end up?

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

If a New York City FC fan was out of the country or didn’t have any access to the internet or social media in the last two weeks, then they have a lot of catching up to do.

After weeks of “will he, won’t he” with Patrick Vieira threatening to jump ship to mid-table Ligue 1 side OGC Nice, he’s finally made his decision, He’s swapped Yankee Stadium and New York City for the French Riviera, leaving NYCFC scrambling for a manager.

City Football Group have coaxed Manchester City assistant Domenec Torrent — often considered Pep Guardiola’s Svengali — to cross the Atlantic and become NYCFC’s third-ever manager. Torrent’s history with inventive tactics and player development should win over NYCFC fans quickly.

City face a depleted Toronto FC, last year’s MLS Cup winners. From last campaign’s lofty heights that saw them enter the conversation of “best MLS team ever” to forcing Mexican powers Chivas into penalty kicks in the CCL final, the Reds have fallen on hard times. That being said, Sebastian Giovinco is as deadly as he’s ever been, and Greg Vanney remains a terrific manager. Torrent and company can’t afford to overlook Toronto, no matter what the table says.

Here’s a couple of tips for quelling Giovinco and Toronto.

  1. Line Up Like This

4-2-3-1: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Ofori, Ring; Tajorui-Shradi, Moralez, Medina; Villa

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

With Vieira’s departure, gone should be the hokey 3-man backline he tinkered with in his final games at NYCFC. Ben Sweat and Maxime Chanot, who have missed the last few contests, should reclaim their starting spots next to Anton Tinnerholm and Alex Callens. Yangel Herrera’s season ending injury opens the door for Ebenezer Ofori to firmly cement himself in the XI. Alex Ring, the nigh unstoppable defensive midfielder he is, starts once again.

The 4-2-3-1 formation often times arises out of the 4-3-3 in game due to how advanced Maxi Moralez plays. With the white-hot Ismael Tajouri-Shradi on the left and Jesus Medina on the right, NYCFC should put their best attacking lineup on the pitch. David Villa starts, but you knew that already.

NYCFC supporters should rejoice with glee as Jo Inge Berget returns to the bench. Berget isn’t the black hole up top like Adam Nemec was. In fact, he can be a solid hold-up second striker/false 9 that can move without the ball well. However, his goalscoring, or lack thereof, sends him to the bench. The absence of the Costa Rican pair of Ronald Matarrita and Rodney Wallace presents an opportunity for young players like Jonathan Lewis and Kwame Awuah to earn some MLS minutes. Cedric Hountondji’s season ending injury means Sebastian Ibeagha and Saad Abdul-Salaam are all the Boys in Blue have in terms of defensive reserves.

2. Maintain the possession advantage. Don’t try to play fast with Toronto’s superior athletes.

MLS: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto are the chameleons of MLS. Greg Vanney hasn’t used the same formation more than four times this season (4-1-4-1, which they used in their 4-4 draw against DC United). Vanney has an aptitude for molding his game plans to specifically counter each opponent.

No matter what their opponent does or how Toronto lines up, they still want to dominate possession and control the game in the middle and final thirds. Ranking 3rd in overall possession percentage, 4th in middle third possession, and 6th in final third possession, Toronto sees a lot of the ball.

What made Toronto the deadliest team in MLS last year was their ability to speed the game up if need be. Though Jozy Altidore will miss this match, young and pacy wing players like the deadly goalscorer Jonathan Osorio, the Swiss Army Knife Tosaint Ricketts, and extremely talented Brazilian left back Auro can overwhelm teams through sheer athleticism and speed.

Vieira and most City Football Group sides emphasize keeping possession, and NYCFC should follow suit in this match. NYCFC are better at longer buildups and running more methodical offensive sets. Doing so would allow them to take control of the pace and tempo of the game, an absolute must against a side with this much quality.

3. Alex Ring needs to mark Giovinco. The more physical the defender, the tougher it is for him.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New York City FC Chris Bergmann-USA TODAY Sports

Sebastian Giovinco on a healthy Toronto team is as tough a nut to crack as there is in MLS. Not only would an opposing defense have to contend with Toronto’s style and quality up top besides the Italian star, but his individual creativity and skill on set pieces is par excellence.

Luckily for NYCFC and the rest of MLS, health issues have figuratively and (perhaps) literally kneecapped Toronto. Knowing that only Jonathan Osorio has been a consistent offensive weapon, Giovinco finds himself sandwiched between the best defenders on any given team, knowing full well that he and he alone has to score for Toronto.

NYCFC’s best defender may actually play the No. 6 role in midfield. Alex Ring was extremely impressive against both Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron in the Atlanta clashes, and held his own against Mexican World Cup hero Carlos Vela. He has the pace to recover that Callens and Chanot just don’t have. When going up against the Atomic Ant, every little bit counts.

4. Use this game as an opportunity to test young players in league play

MLS: Portland Timbers at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Domenec Torrent’s arrival represents a chance to wipe the proverbial slate clean with regards to how younger players get allocated minutes.

Under Vieira, the likes of Jonathan Lewis and James Sands needed both injuries and international duty to sap some of the veterans away from the NYCFC active roster. Even then, game time would be restricted to 5 or 10 minute cameos at the end of blowouts.

Lewis, Sands, and Kwame Awuah may not have blown the doors off at Yankee Stadium, but rarely have they look bewildered or overmatched. In fact, Lewis showed NYCFC more pizzazz in the final third than Rodney Wallace did. While Vieira rigidity with roster selection excluded the youngest Boys in Blue, Torrent has the opportunity to showcase what they’re made of.