After a very dreary and unsatisfactory start to the season that included no wins and a litany of disappointing draws, NYCFC have finally started to show some fight, winning three of their last four matches, picking up ten out of a possible twelve points in that span.
Sitting at the bottom of the table before wins against D.C. United, the Chicago Fire, and the Montreal Impact, now City sit firmly in playoff position in sixth place, with an extra game in hand on most of the teams ahead of them. Winning is the ultimate antidote and it seems that this latest successful spell has quieted all of the uproar calling for head coach Domenec Torrent’s job for now at the very least.
One of the pivotal changes made was the formation shift from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3, playing a back 3 of Alexander Callens, James Sands, and Maxime Chanot which pushed fullbacks Ben Sweat and Anton Tinnerholm higher up the pitch in more of a wingback position on each side giving City a more potent attack with width. Midfielders Alexander Ring and Ebenezer Ofori have rocked the midfield in this double pivot where they simultaneously help out on defense and then spring the offense to players like Maxi Moralez, Ismael Tajouri Shradi, and Héber up front. This formation is a stark contrast from what City does historically, almost always running a 4-3-3 but big changes were made and for now, it’s been successful. City is in the middle of a very tough stretch of their schedule, where they won’t be back at home until early June so time will tell if this success has any lasting power or not, but so far so good.
City’s latest win against the Montreal Impact was outright dominant in a 2-0 victory where Montreal didn’t manage to steer a shot on Sean Johnson’s net at all during the match and only had five attempts. Maxi Moralez finally broke his scoreless drought scoring in the first 6 minutes firing home a rebound from a Héber strike. After hitting four posts in the previous three games, and not converting on two penalty kicks along the way, it was huge for Maxi to get off this skid he’s been on as of late, and sometimes after a long stretch like that will bring more goals in bunches for NYCFC’s Spider-Man.
City dominated possession and pace of play and it showed, from beginning to end City outclassed Montreal who are sitting in third place in the East. They were without star player Nacho Piatti, but to go up into the Stade Saputo in Montreal and do that to the Impact was very, very impressive.
Another key component of the Pigeon’s newest spell of success has been the rise of winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who is tied for the lead in goals for NYCFC so far in the opening third of the season. He added another tally against Montreal, a beautiful bending strike from his lethal left foot that curled into the top left corner of the net, leaving Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush froze in time and space on his goal line, cementing the 2-0 victory for the boys in blue. Isi had struggled to crack the starting XI but he has stepped up huge in Alexandru Mitriță’s absence with an ankle injury and gives Torrent an interesting dilemma when Mitriță is fit enough to return to the starting XI. Between Mitriță on the left, Héber in the middle, and Maxi feeding them both, given the new formation it will be hard to get all four of these tremendous players on the field at the same time. It’s a good problem to have, and we will see what happens this weekend when they travel to the City of Stars and take on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Los Angeles Galaxy in a Saturday afternoon matinee matchup on national television.
The City back line have only conceded one goal in the past four games which is another pivotal point to their bounce back to relevancy this season. The three-man defense of Callens, Sands in the middle, and Chanot have been relatively stout and combined with the quality goalkeeping of Sean Johnson, Alex Ring returning to that central defensive midfielder role cleaning up messes in front of the back three, and the wing-backs helping out and pushing play forward, the defense has been a defense that a fizzles out attacks like the Dothraki charge into the army of the dead during the Battle of Winterfell. In ten matches this season, City have conceded twelve goals, a goal and a quarter clip per match. But if you take away the 4-0 destruction from Toronto and the intense 3-3 draw in Minnesota, City have conceded only five goals in eight matches, which is flat out remarkable and it’s something to look at in a positive light.
Anton Tinnerholm has been an unsung hero not only for the defense but for the entire team in general, providing tough and hard defense from the right and then flying up the pitch, igniting the attack with brilliant runs and quality crosses that switch the play and brings the defense to their absolute limit. He was easily man of the match against Montreal, directly responsible for both goals, setting up Ben Sweat with a beautiful through cross that led to Héber’s strike and Maxi’s finish, and once again with a deep run into the penalty box where he got the ball to Tajouri-Shradi while falling down and then he did the rest. He made multiple runs where he had the opposite full-back at their wit’s end, leaving them to either get blown by or to commit a foul.
Tinnerholm drew a couple of yellow cards and won free kicks in dangerous places for the big attackers up front. It isn’t something that shows up on the stat sheets, but Tinnerholm has been absolutely massive for City for the past month or so and it shows.
As refreshing as this past success has been for City, next week is a very tall task against the Galaxy in Los Angeles. Stopping the Lion that is Zlatan is a massive test and City hasn’t seen him yet since he came to MLS last season, the stout defense will certainly have their hands full. The Galaxy sit in second place in the western conference currently, just behind cross-town rivals LAFC, but City has shown that when they are on their game, with everyone playing natural positions and actually having a quality striker in Héber, they can compete with anyone in MLS.
One way or another the east versus west matchup will be appointment television for every soccer fan in the States for sure. One thing is certain, City are back and the rest of the season should be a very fun ride.
Featured Image: Katie Cahalin