Or some of them, anyway—you know how he is.
Back in the heady days of the pre-pre-season, The Outfield’s Justin Egan tweeted some formations we’d seen from Dome Torrent’s NYCFC last season and might again if the wind was right. Now that preseason is over and we’ve seen how the new pieces fit, let’s size up our wealth of tactical options.
Since the Patrick Vieira days this has been NYCFC’s default shape, so consistent that the YES Networks graphic department routinely mashes the starting lineup into it without a second thought. It’s looking like multimillion-dollar newcomer Alexandru Mitriță will start primarily at left wing this year, which means the center forward spot is wide open—“Jona” Lewis had a run at it against Nashville SC but didn’t lock down the position. Fans can keep hoping for a last-minute spring transfer, but expect non-traditional strikers to get minutes in this formation at the beginning of the season.
The 4-3-3’s upside for NYCFC is flexible player selection, distributed defensive responsibilities, and potency in various gamestates (a fancy analytics word that usually just means “scorelines”). It encourages connectivity between the attacking and midfield lines, especially with Maxi Moralez and Keaton Parks as hybrid central-attacking mids.
If there’s a problem with this formation, it’s that it can cause a lot of wing traffic, especially if Ronald Matarrita and Anton Tinnerholm are aggressive about getting up the touchline. Also, it’s a shape that NYCFC’s played a lot of, making it easier for high caliber opponents to game plan against and win that battle of inches. Without a sure-thing center forward, even our best formation can’t quite eke out an A. Grade: B+
Dome warmed up to the double pivot when he ran into player selection issues, affording Ebenezer Ofori a lot of play next to new team captain Alexander Ring. The difference between a 4-3-3 and this formation is the formalization of Maxi’s role as a trequartista instead of a concrete member of the midfield three. It’s his best role, allowing him to float between lines as a catalyst in the final third without having to focus too much on defensive responsibilities.
The 4-2-3-1’s advantage is that it puts Maxi in a position to succeed. It also encourages Ring to be more offensive, able to move forward to cut out counterattacks while counting on his defensive mid partner to keep the back line from being exposed. There’s potential for Parks to be a full-fledged box-to-box midfielder in this formation, putting his own twist on the role Yangel Herrera left behind.
The formation’s weak spot is the pressure it puts on the wingers. NYCFC’s wingers are not exactly highly competent defenders—Lewis, Medina, and Mitri don’t inspire a lot of confidence tracking back. And as we saw last year during Maxi’s MVP-caliber season, opponents will try to mark him out of the game as a central attacking midfielder, forcing him into more and more challenging positions to receive and build the attack. Grade: B-
Do you like all-out attacking soccer? Do you think defense is for wimps and cowards? Have you already become a convert to the School of Inside Fullbacks? This is the formation for you. In the 4-1-4-1, possession is as much a defensive strategy as an offensive one, and high pressing is a must to limit free runs at the back line. It also tends to require at least one fullback to tuck inside to provide midfield cover alongside Ring.
That advanced line of four puts a ton of pressure on the opposing team. Marking three positionally fluid DPs is no small task for your average MLS team. It allows the wingers to play up the touchline and drive deep to deliver low crosses across the goalmouth or cutbacks to the penalty spot. Having a formation that facilitates the most dangerous passing angles in the sport is very good.
But it puts a lot of stress on Ring and the fullbacks to stifle counterattacks. Matarrita, despite his minutes as a center mid last year, doesn’t seem to offer what Dome’s looking for as an inside left back. Ben Sweat is better in the role, and this preseason even Tony Rocha has earned minutes as an underlapping left back. If you’re going to play a 4-1-4-1, it helps to be sure about who your best best player is at one of its pivotal positions. Grade: B
The ghost of Jason Kreis likes this formation very much. It’s defensively compact and hard to break, relying on the tight midfield four to dominate central possession. In doing so, though, the team sacrifices width. Thankfully diamonds aren’t forever: after an international-break-induced flirtation with the formation in September Dome mostly retired it, and it’s probably the least likely option for this season.
Like the 4-2-3-1, the diamond keeps Maxi central, with runners in front to play balls into. This formation encourages Tinnerholm and Matarrita to get forward often, relying on the midfield three of Ring, Ofori, and Parks for coverage behind. The striker pair could also free up Mitriţă to roam and find matchups that suit him best.
The drawback with the diamond is that it doesn’t really have a place for Jesús Medina. After going through the Pirlo-Lampard-Villa logjam, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to field a formation were one of your DPs is unlikely to see the field. Grade: C ❧
Image: Charles Francis Voysey, The Pilgrim