D.C. 0-2 NYCFC: And Totally Redeem Yourself

Whoa, we really won a game.

It took nearly a fifth of the season, but it happened: Dome Torrent finally grabbed his first win of the year. And the even bigger news here is it looks like he’s found a formation that fits this NYCFC squad. Coming off of a hard-fought draw at Minnesota United, the coach trotted out the same three-center-back shape against another United club, and it worked wonders.

After an offseason spent polishing his collection of wingers, Dome’s somehow settled on a system that doesn’t employ any. The reason is pretty simple: yes, the 5-3-2 (don’t get too hung up on nomenclature here: Dome has called it a 3-4-3 in possession and a five-man defense, but formations are slippery things) sends one winger to the bench and tucks another inside, but it gets the most important pieces of this roster in their best positions and opens everything up.

The starting point for the new scheme is NYCFC’s quality depth at the back. Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot have been one of the most formidable defensive tandems in MLS the last couple years, but center back is arguably James Sands’ best position as well, so Dome threw all of them out there in a strong back three that balanced physicality and ball skills. The wider base allowed Ronald Matarrita and Anton Tinnerholm to push up from fullback to wingback, possibly a more natural position for both of them. Their five key passes and one assist were the strongest offensive showing of the season from NYCFC’s outside backs.

In the middle, Alexander Ring and Ebenezer Ofori initiated the offense by stepping up to create turnovers high up the pitch. Working as a double pivot, the pair made key tackles and interceptions that led to dangerous counters. And up top, our new Megamind striker showed exactly what NYCFC has been missing: a target man whose decisive runs and incisive passing could create chances like Alexandru Mitriţă’s go-ahead goal. Just like you might have hoped, Héber’s aggression at the point of the attack also gave Maxi Moralez room to wander wherever he pleased to keep the offense ticking.

Left: With three center backs, Matarrita (22) and Tinnerholm (3) were able to get more involved in the attack. Right: Héber’s work at striker allowed Moralez (10) to drop into a free-floating midfield role.

Even in a decisive 2-0 victory on the road against the Eastern Conference leaders, there was still room for improvement: some poor decisions, a missed penalty kick, and more struggles holding the door on set pieces (you didn’t think we’d get through this without a Game of Thrones reference, did you?). Maybe Ben Olsen’s been doing some internet reading: 7 of D.C.’s 10 chances came from dead ball situations, several of them played into the danger space between NYCFC’s high line and Sean Johnson. On the other end, NYCFC squandered a lot of quality buildups by pulling the trigger too soon on long range attempts rather than picking out smarter passes.

While the 5-3-2 has turned NYCFC around over the past couple away games, it’s an open question whether the formation will work in the tight confines of Yankee Stadium. With two home games to come this week, we’ll find out soon enough. For now, though, Dome’s seat gets a little bit cooler. ❧

Image: Joseph Stella, Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras