Montreal 0-2 NYCFC: How Midfield Switches Broke the Bunker

Good things happen when you find Anton Tinnerholm in space.

Barely a month after traveling north of the Canadian border only to get dismantled at Toronto, the Boys in Blue returned to the land of Mounties and poutine and came away with a much more encouraging result. NYCFC beat Montreal in the same 3-4-3 that’s now won them 10 points in the last four games, but this time Dome Torrent made a critical tweak in the buildup to help his team produce two road goals and their highest expected goal output of the season.

With Alexandru Mitriţă and Rónald Matarrita absent from the left wing, NYCFC looked to build up the left side until around the halfway line and then launch the ball across the field to Anton Tinnerholm bombing up the right. These long switches created one-v-one opportunities for Tinnerholm, who was left to choose between bringing the attack into the right halfspace (where he set up NYCFC’s first goal) or getting to the endline (where he set up the second).

Ebenezer Ofori and Alexander Callens hit long switches from the left side of the midfield to Anton Tinnerholm on the right wing.

The tactic had two intended effects. First, switching play before entering the attacking third helped keep Montreal from setting up an organized bunker (which NYCFC had struggled to break down when the teams met last month). As Montreal’s defense scrambled to react laterally, vulnerable spaces opened up. NYCFC attempted the same number of shots as the previous meeting but their quality was much higher, averaging 0.15 xG per shot, up from 0.07.

The second effect of the switches was to slow Montreal’s counterattacks and force a more deliberate buildup. It’s no secret that opponents like to attack up Ben Sweat’s flank. Even if a longball to Tinnerholm didn’t connect, it would turn the ball over in a less dangerous area of the pitch, away from NYCFC’s weaker side.

Left-to-right switches were a key feature of NYCFC’s gameplan.

As much as NYCFC tried to prevent Montreal from attacking their left flank, the Impact still did most of their crossing from that wing. But the slower buildup gave Dome’s squad time to settle into an orderly back five. With Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, and Sebastien Ibeagha patrolling the 18-yard box, Montreal’s crosses were easily headed away.

The left-to-right switch was key to this one, but we’ll see whether it continues to be an important tactic with a full squad. Driving the attack away from Mitriţă’s side might not give NYCFC’s $8 million Designated Player enough opportunities on the ball. If he and Matarrita can stay healthy, don’t be surprised to see them combine in the left halfspace the way Tinnerholm and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi did on the right on Saturday. The good news for now is that Dome seems to have a handle on how to break a bunker before it begins. ❧

Image: Bridget Riley, Conversation