Building Together. But where’s the blueprint?

Nearly ten months after Dome Torrent’s arrival, NYCFC fans find ourselves asking the same questions we did eight months ago. And six months ago. And after a stinging playoffs exit capped Dome’s first half-season with the club. Where is the style, the creativity, we’ve seen in flashes? How does NYCFC want to play its game?

Through a procession of starting elevens, formations, and sometimes-puzzling substitutions, over the last two seasons the team has relied on Maxi Moralez to run the show in midfield as a creative engine for attacking sequences that have resulted in 113 combined points on the table. But then on a few recent occasions, we’ve seen Maxi fill in at striker while the team resorted to booting long balls up the wings. Much has been written already about NYCFC’s lack of a true number 9 so far this year and Dome’s game of tactical twister to compensate. Maxi may have been out of position at striker, but at least this arrangement kept him on the field, able to drop back and assist in the buildup when needed.

With news breaking late Friday that our Bronx Spider-Man was unavailable to play, and with that long-promised number 9 just arriving at JFK, NYCFC faced another wrinkle in its ongoing struggle to progress the ball through midfield and create scoring threats. Fan hopes turned to a taller, Texaner young midfielder who had shown some preseason promise in carrying the ball smoothly through an opponent’s press. But Keaton Parks has logged only two minutes on the field through four regular-season matches. Or maybe we would see Juan Pablo Torres, a promising midfield prospect for the U.S. who had scored four goals in the 2019 U-20 World Cup qualifiers but has yet to make his first appearance for the club.

Unfortunately for New Yorkers’ long-suffering livers, Dome ultimately elected the same defensive-minded midfield trio trotted out in Orlando for our historic first draw of the 2019 season. The result? A massive void in the middle of the attacking third, three shots on target, and a meager 1.02 expected goals for the game.

NYCFC had no success completing passes in the attacking third.
Source: MLSSoccer.com; @BenBaer89

In the other direction, Toronto FC’s new Designated Player Alejandro Pozuelo was allowed to do anything he wanted, providing two goals and an assist in a debut to rival Zlatan’s MLS entrance from a year ago. Toronto ended the night with four goals, but it easily could have been six or more (two goals were called back for offsides infractions).

Source: MLSSoccer.com; @BenBaer89

More questions. Did missing Maxi suddenly turn the Pigeons from a team that performed well against a highly touted LAFC into—well, that thing we saw Friday? Does NYCFC fundamentally lose composure against teams in red? Or is Dome simply struggling to lead a talented squad?

When Dome took the leap from Etihad Stadium to the Etihad Pitch, we knew we were in for an adjustment period no matter his assistant-coaching pedigree. Working with a salary-capped squad (scattered, smothered, and covered with GAM, TAM, et ceterAM and the decreasingly super draft) would be a guaranteed headache for a manager who hadn’t sat first chair since 2006. But does Dome realize that MLS allows the same three substitutions per game you get in Europe? NYCFC has failed to use all its subs in two of the four games so far this season. In NYC’s draw against DC United, attacking options warmed the bench while the clock ticked down on dropped points. And then on Friday, Parks and Torres went once again unused in a match that desperately needed a spark of creativity going forward.

Four games into the season, context is important. NYC has draws against DC United and LAFC, both of which have dropped points only in the Bronx. Toronto came into Friday with an unbroken winning record, a healthy Jozy Altidore, and a shiny new third-most expensive DP in MLS history. City came in on tilt from an international break that saw ten players away representing their countries. A 2-1 loss at BMO Field wouldn’t have been surprising. But this comprehensive 4-0 drubbing, described as inexcusable by captain Alex Ring, suggests some deeper trouble than what you might pass off as simply a bad night. Dome has a lot of ideas about how this team could play soccer, but it’s no clearer now than it was ten months ago what he thinks about how it should play soccer. And it’s easy to believe the players are as confused as we are.

The #DomeOut crowd is getting bigger and shouting louder. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to discount the results: NYCFC has won four games in the last twenty. Only Chicago, Orlando, and San Jose are on worse streaks. It may not be time to abandon hope just yet, but it sure feels like we’re getting there. ❧

Image: Follower of Heironymus Bosch, Christ’s Descent into Hell

Written by Chris Campbell

Twitter: @SoupInNYC27