New York City FC’s 2-1 loss against Atlanta United on Sunday was a wake-up call. The Boys in Blue have been happy to pick up scrappy wins against the likes of non-playoff teams like the Colorado Rapids, Sporting Kansas City, and the Houston Dynamo this summer. But there are three huge blemishes that stick out as NYCFC clear the halfway point of the season and into the last third — a 2-1 (controversial) loss to the rival New York Red Bulls, a 3-1 spanking from Real Salt Lake, and the aforementioned 2-1 battering at the hands of Atlanta this weekend.
It seems that whenever City has gone up against more formidable opponents this summer, the wheels have fallen off. I’m not saying that NYCFC aren’t a strong team — they’ve proven they are at several points this season — or that I’m back on the #DomeOut train. But to look at results like these and pretend that there aren’t problems in need of solving is disingenuous at best. And if NYCFC have any hopes at staying near the top and competing with the likes of the Red Bulls, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, they’re gonna need to start patching up a few holes.
So, what are the problems and how do we solve them? In this article, I will attempt to point out two issues that I believe should be addressed as New York City enters the championship rounds of the MLS regular season.
1.) It’s time to abandon the 3-4-3 formation
After NYCFC went winless through their first five games of the season and with his job under scrutiny, Domé Torrent decided to switch things up and breathe new life into a team that was in desperate need of it. In came the new 3-4-3 formation.
The change did everything it was supposed to and more — from April 6, NYCFC went 11 games unbeaten (13 games if you count the USOC wins against North Carolina and D.C. United). But recently, this approach hasn’t been yielding quite the results it used to.
These days, it seems that New York City mostly comes out of the gate a bit slow and then tactically swaps to the 4-3-3 following the halftime break. Maybe there’s something there. Maybe, opponents have caught on to the newer approach and it’s time to get back to basics.
Just a thought.
2.) Keaton Parks should be starting over Ebenezer Ofori
One of Domé’s biggest mistakes against Atlanta over the weekend was starting Ebenezer Ofori over Keaton Parks. Don’t get me wrong, Ebe has grown much as a player since the beginning of last season. And I wouldn’t be surprised (or mad) if NYCFC bought out his option from VfB Stuttgart at the end of this season.
With that said, however, it’s obvious that when both Ofori and team captain Alexander Ring are in the middle of the park, the team has taken the defensive approach. And if the beginning of this season — in which Ofori, Ring, and James Sands all made up the midfield — is anything to go by, then this is always the wrong approach to take with this team.
If 2019 has proven anything, it’s that attacking midfielder Maxi Moralez is by far NYCFC’s most important and productive player. And in order for him to do what he does best, not only does he need to be playing as a true No. 10 (which goes into the formation argument listed above), he needs someone else in the midfield that can provide more than just defensive support.
By all means, Parks is that guy. The Texan’s ball movement, physical attributes, and technical skill make him a Swiss Army knife at the No. 8 position. If NYCFC want to compete with the best the league has to offer, Parks has to be involved for the opening minute and not used as a last-minute backup plan.