The MLS’s scheduling this season has created all sorts of problems for New York City FC who look to build on their current unbeaten streak of six games. Worse, star man and playmaker Maxi Moralez could miss up to six weeks of action after injuring his knee against FC Cincinnati.
Their latest draw against the New England Revolution (who they only played 17 days prior) was a real test for Ronny Deila’s men. It wasn’t just Moralez being unavailable for selection — backup playmaker Jesús Medina and starting left back Ronald Matarrita were ruled out with injuries while holding midfielder James Sands was serving a suspension.
Captain Alexander Ring, who has been controversially playing on the left wing this season was asked to play in the No. 10 role. When the startin XI were announced, it didn't look pretty on paper and it didn't look pretty out on the pitch either.
While many fans will be bemoaning the loss of Moralez, the truth is City looked like an entirely different side without their starting fullbacks, Matarrita and Anton Tinnerholm. Tinnerholm made a cameo appearance after being subbed on for the young and Bundesliga bound Joe Scally. Almost immediately, opportunities were created on the right flank.
So what does this mean for City going forward? Surely Deila has a Plan B right? The truth is, he doesn’t. With Héber out of form and several first team names out of the picture, City will have to dig deep to get something out of their match against third place Toronto FC.
Fans, however, will be relieved to see center back duo Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot in fine form. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson has also been playing well, leading the league with 43 saves coming into the New England game.
Defense might be NYCFC’s best offense if they are to end Phase 2 on a high note. Toronto and Cincinnati won’t be giving out three points for free and at the moment, Deila can’t count on his attacking options to consistently score goals.
Designated Player, Alexandru Mitrita was finally given an opportunity to impress on Saturday night after fans protested that the winger should be playing in his natural position over the defensively minded Ring; it was a disaster. Despite his pace and knack for getting forward, Mitrita had a woeful performance. On two occasions he was unable to sort out his feet for what could have surely been at least a shot on target.
Ring looked uncomfortable in the free-man role and Héber had yet another anonymous night. Gary Mackay-Steven — who has been subjected to criticism from fans this season — was the liveliest going forward. His pace and desire were the only inspiring bit of play that fans could bear to watch for 90 minutes, minus a near-disaster on a back pass.
Unless Deila wants to experiment against Toronto (which isn’t the game for that), he should be focusing on defensive cohesiveness from his side. If NYCFC can remain solid at the back without conceding too many shots, then eventually half-chances will open up for them. Ring has proven he can score a goal or two and Héber will be looking to kickstart his goal-scoring form from last season.
While working on the defensive side of the game hardly ever leads to attractive soccer, it will at the very least provide Deila with a plan because he clearly didn’t have one against the Revs.
Cincinnati managed to steal three points from the New York Red Bulls with an Olympico goal in the 85th minute this week. Deserved or not, three points are three points and that’s exactly the kind of mindset City must have for the remainder of their games in Phase 2.
Until Deila can solve the creativity issues in the final third, expect more of the slow and rough soccer we saw Saturday night.