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Tactics Time: How to Stay Hot Against Montreal

How NYCFC can defeat the Impact to make it two straight

MLS: Montreal Impact vs. NYCFC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Cathartic. Surreal. Heavenly.

Pick your adjective. New York City FC’s win over the New York Red Bulls was all of those and more.

Jonathan Lewis took advantage of an incredibly poor pass from Tyler Adams and a miscue from center back Aaron Long and set up Maxi Moralez for a sublime finish past Luis Robles. While the 1-0 win in the Bronx still leaves NYCFC looking up at Atlanta on the table, nor does it exercise the blowout losses of derbies gone by, the Blues needed those three points.

Domé Torrent has already shown to be a more pragmatic manager than Patrick Vieira was, who, despite his success, was committed to a play-from-the-back style to a borderline frightening degree. Torrent realized that making the game scrappy and ugly was the way to beat the up-tempo Red Bull attack.

There’s not time for the Spaniard to rest on his laurels, however. On Queens Borough Night this Wednesday, the Montreal Impact are coming to town. Their 2018 campaign is incredibly confusing and becomes even more confusing the closer one examines it. On paper, they are set up for success. With Ignacio Piatti remaining one of the top attackers in the league and Algerian international Saphir Taider coming over as a DP, the Impact were poised to rack up the goals this year. And even though manager Remi Garde flamed out with Aston Villa, he still brings a quality European pedigree stemming from his 3 years at the helm of French power Lyon.

Despite all of that, the Impact have struggled.

The first few months of the year saw defending so poor that even Kwame Watson-Siriboe would avert his eyes in disgust. The loss of Belgian international Laurent Ciman hit hard, as even the most stagnant of attacks could leave Saputo Stadium with a couple of goals in hand. But the Impact have surged recently, winning four of their last five thanks to the duo of Frenchmen Rudy Camacho and Rod Fanni. While two of their recent wins have come against a depleted Houston and a reeling Orlando, a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City could mean that Montreal have turned a corner.

They’re a dangerous foe that could pounce on NYCFC in the short week. Here’s what Torrent needs to do to prevent that from happening.

  1. Line Up Like This

3-4-1-2: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot; Matarrita, Ofori, Ring, Tinnerholm; Moralez; Medina, Lewis

Bench: Stuver, Ibeagha, Abdul-Salaam, McNamara, Awuah, Sands, Villa

A 3-4-1-2 concept may seem alien to many around NYCFC. However, the three-game week will likely force Torrent to rotate his squad a bit, something Vieira never quite seemed to master. Having used Ben Sweat and Anton Tinnerholm as wingbacks in the Toronto matchup, Torrent has shown his willingness to use a formation similar to this one.

Ronald Matarrita, the more attacking-minded of the team’s left backs, slides in at his natural wingback spot, pushing Sweat to left center back. Since NYCFC lack depth at midfield, Ebenezer Ofori and Alex Ring are once again back in the center. The injury bug has been biting NYCFC hard in recent weeks, leaving their selection of forwards incredibly limited.

Using Maxi Moralez as a false 9 with Jesus Medina and Rodney Wallace as attacking wingers worked out well last time around, and giving that lineup one more go allows Jo Inge Berget and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to nurse nagging injuries. Though Wallace started against Red Bulls, Jonathan Lewis has earned a start. Any playing time Wallace earns is either nepotism or incompetence at this point. Squad rotation forces seldom used faces like James Sands and Saad Abdul-Salaam into the 18. David Villa remains on the bench, as to not overwork him in a short week.

2. No team in MLS attacks from the right more than Montreal. Play compact and force them into the center.

MLS: Sporting KC at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal’s attack has evolved into one of the most unique in all of MLS. Piatti and Taider both ply on the left side. One would think that those two would be leading the charge and curling in outrageous shots from distance regularly. Instead, they’re tied with the Red Bulls for the team with the highest percentage of possession coming on the right side.

Alejandro Silva is essentially a carbon copy of Ronald Matarrita if the latter was Uruguayan. A right back that feels just as comfortable going forward, Silva has been installed at Remi Garde’s right winger spot in recent weeks, and has been instrumental in setting up chances for the other Impact attackers.

With two wingbacks giving NYCFC the flexibility to shift into a 5-man backline if needed, playing compact and not letting Sliva whip in powerful crosses or make an incisive run into the box is instrumental in the recipe to success. Cut off Silva, and even Piatti and Taider will have their effectiveness toned down.

3. Try to get the Impact’s 3-man midfield to encroach up the field. Hit them with swift counters.

MLS: Sporting KC at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Remi Garde wanted to play a certain way upon his arrival in Canada; he wanted a high-pressing, high-scoring attack like the Red Bulls. Montreal’s laughably poor start eventually led Garde to overhaul their tactical approach.

The new-look Impact sit back and play much more patiently. Not only does this hide their poor depth at center back, but their games aren’t as frantic and sloppy as they potentially could be.

NYCFC need to get Montreal to revert back to their bad habits. Taider and midfielder Ken Krolicki like to get forward and go for goal, as do frequent substitutions Raheem Edwards and homegrown Quebecois Anthony Jackson-Hamel. While NYCFC aren’t the best counter-attacking team, this could be the best way for a depleted squad to nab a goal, especially against a side that is prone to defensive errors like Montreal.

4. Montreal isn’t a particularly deep squad. Late substitutions could be the key.

MLS: Montreal Impact vs. NYCFC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

As evidenced in their early season blowouts, Montreal’s roster isn’t bursting at the seams with quality should things start to go south. A injury here, an uneven performance there, and the Impact could crash and burn in a snap.

NYCFC, despite the aforementioned injury problems, still have enough depth to pose some problems for Montreal. Maybe David Villa gets a minute cameo should NYCFC need a late goal? In those last few hectic minutes (because NYCFC can’t ever see out 1-0 or 2-1 wins without the other team getting 3 chances in 5 minutes at the end), maybe Abdul-Salaam can work his way back into the squad. Could any of the young trio of James Sands, Joe Scally, and Kwame Awuah even see time?

On paper, NYCFC should have this in the bag. However, this has “trap game” written all over it. What do you think NYCFC needs to do to take home all 3 points? Let us know in the comments!