Welcome to the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals edition of the Hudson River Blue Roundtable, in which the heavily biased Calvin Daniel, Javier Gutierrez, Noah Kassell-Yung, and Raf Noboa y Rivera will do their best to lay out what New York City FC need to do to advance past the Seattle Sounders and reach the Finals.
Last week, the Sounders decisively defeated NYCFC 3-1 in Seattle; tomorrow, NYCFC must score at least two goals to beat the Sounders (and even that might not be enough if the Sounders score), while Seattle will advance with a win, draw, or one-goal loss—plus a few other scenarios that favor the Sounders. In other words, it ain’t going to be easy for NYCFC.
Note that the away-goals rule is in effect, and that a draw will go straight to a penalty shootout.
Now that you had time to fully digest what happened in Seattle last week, do you think NYCFC are still in this?
Raf Noboa y Rivera: Yes. A 3-1 deficit – given the away-goals rule – is not unsurmountable. A 2-0 victory Wednesday by the Pigeons would see them through to the final.
Calvin Daniel: Yes, I believe the team is still in it. It wasn’t until later in the season when they found their groove last year and rolled to the championship.
Javier Gutierrez: We have a chance. Maxi and Chanot were missed in the first game and will play a big impact tomorrow. If Chanot can hold the back-line, and Maxi can be the distributor he has been before, then I think it’s possible to win 2-0
Noah Kassell-Yung: By the way NYCFC have played, the answer is no. However, down two goals with an away goal and only needing a 2-0 win, there is definitely a pathway forward for the City boys.
What do NYCFC need to do to get a result on Wednesday?
NKY: Defensive solidity and offensive creativity. Both sides have struggled and to get a result the whole squad will need to play the best possible game. It's a performance we still haven’t seen this year.
CD: If we’re talking about results, I think they need to stick to the back-line partnership of Chanot and Callens, at least for now. Martins has not looked up to par so far early on. And the team is still not as fluid with the three-man backline as they were when Sands was still on the squad. Going back to basics, as it were, can solidify the defense and allow the players up front to have more freedom to pursue the attack.
RNR: Make sure the back-line plays much more cohesively, and do a better job of breaking Seattle’s press. All three goals came as a result of center-back errors: The press kept New York City from building in the kind of methodical fashion they prefer.
JG: Score two goals and make sure Thiago Martins is off the pitch.
Who do you bench?
CD: I’d bench Martins. And Thiago, assuming that Maxi can start.
JG: Thiago Martins.
RNR: I hate to say this, but: Thiago Martins. He’s yet to impress in any game, and you could argue his errors led to all three Seattle goals last week. The back-line is the team’s shakiest element. While Maxime Chanot may be older and less skilled, he and Alex Callens know how to work with each other.
NKY: Thiago Martins and Tayvon Gray should be replaced as they both struggled defensively and in possession Gray was extremely poor which is a liability.
Who do you need to see play?
NKY: Maxime Chanot should start over Martins unless Deila plays three in the back. Andres Jasson should take Gray’s spot as the attack is the priority over he defense.
CD: If Maxi can play, keep the Starting XI mostly intact. Pair Parks and Morales in the midfield with Maxi in front of them. Talles Magno and Santiago Rodriguez as the wingers in support of Castellanos.
JG: That's right: Keep the same lineup from last week except take Thiago for Maxi, put Santi back on left-wing, and play Chanot over Martins, maybe indefinitely.
RNR: This would be my starting XI: Johnson (GK); Gray-Chanot-Callens-Amundsen; Parks-Morales; Santi-Moralez-Talles Magno; Castellanos.
Who do you bring in to change the game?
JG: Thiago. He’s explosive off the bench.
CD: True, Thiago could stretch this defense as a late-game sub.
RNR: Last week, Ronny Deila left Héber on the bench, choosing to bring on Gedion Zelalem and Nicolas Acevedo. Neither played badly; neither are game-changers. My choice would be to bring on Thiago for Maxi Moralez at around the 60-minute to 65-minute mark, and if you need a goal, bring on Héber at the 70-75’ minute mark.
NKY: Even though we haven’t seen much of him, Gabriel Pereira should get some minutes as Seattle won’t know too much about him and his game. If Parks continues to struggle in ball progression then Zelalem is an option to take on that responsibility.
How does Ronny Deila get the team to perform?
RNR: Plan for quick restarts. That’s how the Sounders scored their second goal. Keaton Parks lets Cristian Roldan saunter casually past him, then lets him on the ball as if they were on a Sunday kickaround. This is at least the third time the Pigeons have gotten caught sleeping on a quick restart; it really shouldn’t be happening now, and if his defensive coaches aren’t coaching this up, they’re not doing their jobs.
NKY: If NYCFC are not winning at halftime, a more attacking formation will be needed. My solution would be to switch to a three-at-the-back and have Amundsen play left-mid, play Pereira or Thiago Andrade at right-mid.
CD: Chemistry has to be at the forefront of the discussion. You have Talles Magno on the left, and Santiago on the right. That hasn’t yielded the same results as Santiago and Medina on the wings last season early on. The midfield partner with Morales has been fluid as well. I think it should be Parks over Acevedo right now. But building those connective relationships is first and foremost.
JG: Have a cohesive plan on scoring off set pieces.
Does NYCFC have a home-field advantage at Red Bull Arena? About 4500 tickets were distributed, which isn’t close to the announced crowd of over 31,000 who were at Lumen field last week.
CD: Home field advantage is relative. NYCFC have played a lot of games at this point when they were the home team that wasn’t really a home team. I think they are used to the challenges and will find success as long as they can get in sync.
JG: NYCFC fans are quality over quantity. We might not be 31,000 strong but we will be NY-loud. Being at home will give us an advantage.
RNR: I wish I could say yes, but the answer is no. Blame the late start (9 pm ET on a weeknight), blame the location — Harrison is a bear to get two from anywhere other than lower Manhattan. Hey, at least the game isn’t in LA!
NKY: Nope. Red Bull arena is no home, which means no home-field advantage.
Is there an x-factor that could change the game?
NKY: CONCACAF officiating. If somehow the VAR gods switch their favoritism to NYCFC then maybe, just maybe, it could affect the outcome.
RNR: I agree. It’s CONCACAF, so I’m going to say the officiating. The VAR official in last week’s game gifted the Sounders a penalty thanks to an extremely harsh foul call on Thiago Martins. Look, I tend to give officials the benefit of the doubt because it’s a thankless job, and so many calls can be subjectively called either way, but even allowing for that, CONCACAF officiating is extremely up-and-down.
JG: Héber? Joking. Maxi Moralez is an x-factor every game.
CD: Taty Castellanos. He’s been quiet goal-wise after the opening rounds of the CCL. If he can reclaim his goal-scoring form it can put NYCFC over the top on Wednesday.
Prediction time: When 11:05 pm rolls around on Wednesday night, what will be on the scoreboard?
RNR: I think it’ll be an entertaining match. Pigeons will score first, early, set the tone. They’ll surrender an equalizer to give Seattle a 4-2 aggregate goal lead before halftime; score again after halftime to make it 2-1 on the night, 4-3 aggregate; score a third to make it interesting at 3-1 on the night, 4-4 on aggregate, before giving up a late goal that sends the Sounders to the CCL final on a 5-4 aggregate win, but gives New York City a hard-won 3-2 win on the night.
CD: I think NYCFC’s best chance is to get a clean sheet to advance. 2-0 will get them through to the next round. And the offense seems a little too out of sync to ask for more than two goals at this point. I’ll say 2-0 and NYCFC makes it through on away goals.
NKY: All indicators point towards a Seattle victory, however when NYCFC have had their backs against the wall, results have come: NYCFC win 2-0.
JG: 2-0 Baby!