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Is the five-attacker lineup viable for NYCFC moving forward?

The Pigeons deployed an attack-heavy squad on Thursday. Is it worth trying again?

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

“Defense wins championships” is one of the oldest and most prevalent adages in sports. But “the best defense is a good offense” is one that has gained steam as the offensive output and athleticism — no matter the sport — has continued to grow exponentially in the past two decades or so. Whether you’re talking about the NFL, MLB, NHL, or one of the various football leagues around the world, it’s undeniable that the attacking side of things has reigned supreme in recent memory.

New York City FC’s home matchup against expansion side FC Cincinnati the past Thursday was a good example of that.

Shifting away from the 3-4-3 that the team had utilized — with success — for over a month, manager Domé Torrent decided to get a bit unorthodox. In a surprise decision, the Catalan manager reverted back to City’s more traditional 4-3-3 (my apologies to Jason Kreis and his diamond 4-4-2). The lineup was as follows:

To break it down further; instead of sticking with the 3-4-3 and replacing the absent Ebenezer Ofori with another midfielder, Domé elected to field a more offensively potent squad the featured Maxi Moralez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi attacking-minded center midfielders with Alexander Ring as the sole defensive pivot a 4-3-3.

And in the game against Cincinnati, it was clear from the offset that NYCFC were offensively manhandling MLS’s newest club. The buildup was quick, players were bouncing in and out of the channels, and City were able to net three goals within the first 30 minutes of the game. Here’s each goal from the first half:

You seeing a pattern there?

Because of the sheer numbers they are committing forward — and the players involved — NYCFC’s attack that consists of anywhere from five to seven players at a time easily overwhelms Cincinnati’s defensive line. All of the first three goals are distributed from the wide areas and because everyone in the middle is capable of scoring, it doesn’t really matter who’s foot it finds. Not to mention everyone is spaced out properly.

Let’s have a quick look at all the numbers really quick.

Of the 20 shots City took on Thursday, 9 of them were on target. And of those 9 shots, 5 of them were goals. That means that the team had a 55% conversion rate when the shot was in between the pipes.

No matter how good they have been in the past two-and-a-half seasons, NYCFC has never really been known as a high-scoring team despite always getting a ton of scoring opportunities in the games they win. But with this kind of “front-five”, the Pigeons had a plan B, C, D, E, and F in case plan A didn’t go according to plan. The result was five goals in clinical fashion.

I’m not going to argue with a nine-game unbeaten streak and the success that we saw with the 3-4-3. It obviously works when the club has all hands on deck. But with this new attacking 4-3-3 we saw, there is an argument to be made that this should not just be a one-off.

With the 3-4-3, NYCFC’s bread and butter is the midfield where fullbacks Anton Tinnerholm and Ronald Matarrita both act as wingbacks/wide midfielders while Ring and Ofori fill the middle gaps as defensive stoppers. To date, these are the only four players we have seen squeeze every last bit of effectiveness out of the formation and it never seems like it’s all there when any one of them are unavailable for selection. Because of this, I don’t think it would be completely wise to put all of your eggs in this basket heading into the summer.

Furthermore, the offense this season has been extremely hard to pick. Let’s list them off:

  • Héber - 6 goals, 3 assists
  • Ismael Tajouri-Shradi - 4 goals, 2 assists
  • Alexandru Mitrita - 4 goals, 1 assist
  • Maxi Moralez - 3 goals, 9 assists
  • Taty Castellanos - 3 goals, 2 assists

How can you only select three of those five players to play in each game? I get that it’s always important to have some offensive firepower come off the bench, but jeez... that’s five players with at least three goals on the season.

While I understand leaving at least one of them on the bench, I’d want at least four of these players on the pitch at the same time to see if that performance we saw on Thursday can be replicated.

Obviously, FC Cincinnati isn’t the best team to base a good performance on — as it currently stands, they are the worst team in all of MLS. But if you watch that game back on your DVR, it’s obvious that NYCFC were on another level and could’ve possibly done the same to anyone else on that given day with that given player selection.

At the very least, it’s food for thought moving into a period where teams are gonna start rapidly coming into their own.