It is game day in the Big Apple as FC Dallas is getting set to take on New York City FC. We welcome Jake Gofman from our partner site Hudson River Blue to help give us a little more insight on tonight’s opponent.
BDS: NYCFC has had a pretty up and down season in their season year. It took a while for the team to start picking up results at home, do fans feel more confident with this club right now at Yankee Stadium than they did before or do you still worry that old habits could show up as the playoff draw near?
HRB: I think what you're seeing is a regression to the mean when it comes to both our home and away form. Through the first half of the season the team excelled away from Yankee Stadium but could not manage any points at home. A lot of our issues at home stemmed from experimentation with the team and the tactics. Patrick Vieira tried different groupings of players that were unsuccessful and a three-at-the-back, W-M formation that ended up being more hurtful than helpful within the narrow confines of Yankee Stadium.
Meanwhile, on the road, the team employed a traditional 4-3-3 (that has now been adopted by the manager at home as well) and the stability of the formation, in addition to some fortunate results, made NYC FC appear to be road warriors.
As with all things, the truth lies somewhere in between. We're starting to come back to earth away from Yankee Stadium, having now reeled off a series of poor results. Conversely, we seem to be (finally) using our narrow pitch advatage and winning more games at home than before.
Are we worried about the old habits cropping up? Yes, but to the same degree as we are worried about this team falling into bad habits again and dropping winnable games.
BDS: The defense has been a pretty rough spot for this team, allowing a league-high 50 goals this season. What does this group need to do to shut down an attack like FC Dallas' on Saturday?
HRB: Coming into this season, the expectation was that if NYC FC's defense was middle or even slightly worse this would be a Playoff team. Looking at the raw numbers (goals conceded) it doesn't look good, as you noted, but we still sit third in the East.
I would argue the defense has been better than worst in the league (really going out on a limb). We've had some really poor results that have skewed the raw data (11 conceded in 2 games again RBNY, for example) and we seem to have the players, but not the stability or understanding to be a better defensive unit.
On Saturday, New York has to defend as a team if it has any hope of beating FC Dallas. Vieira seems to have locked into his back four more so now, mercilessly dropping Jefferson Mena from the team, but we continue to shuffle positions and that lack of positional understanding has hurt us. Early on it will be worth watching the pairing of Brillant and Chanot to see how they're dealing with all of the talent FC Dallas has up front.
BDS: It is hard to look at NYCFC and not talk about the big three in Andres Pirlo, David Villa and Frank Lampard. What have you all seen this year in this group that is different from last season? And is there a guy that we should be talking about more that isn't a DP with the team?
HRB: I'll start by addressing each of our DPs before bringing it together: Villa has been an exceptional goalscorer again this season, and he's improved from a leadership standpoint. He's been everything we could have asked for out of a DP signing. Pirlo is playing a consistent brand of soccer he's known for now, controlling the build up from the back and occasionally playing the killer ball ahead to the forwards. His defensive abilities leave a lot to be desired.
Frank has seen the biggest jump from one year to the next. It started with getting his ankle issue under control through the beginning part of the season but just having him around the club helped. When he became match fit there were growing pains getting him into the team and playing to his strengths. In the end, Vieira has done the right thing and given Frank the freedom to roam the final third like he did in his heyday at Chelsea. This has resulted in goals for Frank and many happy fans.
The three together have coalesced in the best way we could have hoped. Lampard and Villa play off one another in the final third. Pirlo has a much better feel than he did last season for Villa's runs. And, occasionally, Frank and Andrea can defend as a tandem.
If you're going to look beyond the big three, I would key in on Ronald Matarrita, the Costa Rican wing back. Mata is only in his first year, but he's showing signs of being an exceptional two way talent. He will struggle at times defensively, but he has the touch and the speed to contribute to the attack and overlap with our forwards in a very dangerous way.
Lineup: Saunders; Matarrita, Chanot, Brillant, Allen; Iraola, Pirlo, Lampard; McNamara, Villa, Harrison
Prediction: A back and forth affair with many goals, FC Dallas triumphs on the road 3-2 over the Blues.