NYCFC 0-0 Montreal: Turf War

It’s hard to break down a bunker without a creative midfielder.

Another 0-0 draw at Yankee Stadium. Visible chunks of turf flying loose on the pitch. “Dome out” chants audible throughout the stadium. There was a lot for NYCFC to be unhappy about on Saturday. But maybe most worrying was Dome Torrent’s inability to break down a bunkered defense.

Home draws to D.C. United and LAFC hadn’t exactly been encouraging, but at least they were against two of the league’s better teams. Against a mediocre Montreal side who were minus perennial MVP candidate Ignacio Piatti, three home points weren’t a hope so much as a necessity.

NYCFC had its own holes to plug, as Maxi Moralez and Alexander Callens, two of the team’s key players in possession, were out injured. To compensate—and to try to fix the broken link between the midfield and forward line—Torrent decided to drop Alexandru Mitriţă into an attacking mid role where he could get involved a bit earlier in the buildup. But while Mitri has shown the ability to win one-v-ones and beat defenders with his speed, he didn’t look comfortable starting the offense, and eventually drifted back to his preferred spot on the left wing.

Mitriţă struggled in a more central role for the first 30′ (left) and drifted back toward the left wing for the rest of the game (right).

With no one to do Moralez’s job carrying the ball through the midfield, NYCFC was once again unable to generate serious scoring chances from the run of play, even after Maximiliano Urruti’s 70′ red card. Despite racking up 65.8% possession, the Pigeons only managed a measly 0.92 xG—including just one shot in the final 20 minutes against a 10-man opponent.

NYCFC failed to break through Montreal’s shorthanded defense in the 20-plus minutes after Urruti’s red card.

NYCFC’s four-forward line could get nothing going. With Mitri drifting into the left attacking space, Jonathan Lewis ran out of room to receive the ball and attack the end line, and Jesús Medina found himself isolated on the right wing as his teammates built up the opposite flank. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi replaced Lewis at 56′ and a few minutes later Medina made way for the debut of Héber, the team’s sexy new striker signing, but neither sub could provide an offensive spark as the team failed to find holes in a deep-lying Montreal defense.

Where was the disconnect? NYCFC still lacked creativity bringing the ball from the midfield to attacking third, something Keaton Parks (ahem) could bring. And while Parks did finally get a sub appearance for a few welcome minutes—double-digit minutes, even!—it wasn’t enough for a goal to come. Despite all the possession, despite the Impact’s low block, only 29% of the game happened in Montreal’s defensive third, and Maxi’s probing passes were sorely missed.

Alex Ring’s attempts to play direct couldn’t link NYCFC’s midfield and forward line.

NYCFC has dug itself quite a hole to begin the season. A fully fit Héber should be a massive help in climbing out of it, but piling on talented forwards won’t matter until the midfield is sorted out. And that midfield needs to involve Maxi or Keaton. Or maybe both? ❧

Image: Anonymous (British, early 19th century), Study of a Piece of Turf