L.A. Galaxy 0-2 NYCFC: Smells Like Victory

What does Dome’s nose know?

Domènec Torrent has a bit of a track record when it comes to postgame pressers. Back in November, it was, well, a bit of a desastre. On Saturday after the Galaxy game, with celebratory patches of unidentifiable moisture on his polo, Dome was in a more fragrant mood. “I smell, right now, this team has the possibilities to win something,” he told reporters.

Maybe the odd phrase was just a slip from a novice English speaker. But with only one loss on the season, a blossoming system, and a new striker leading the front line, Dome might be forgiven for letting the scent of success get to his head.

While most of the plaudits for NYCFC’s spring revival have gone to Héber, who’s racked up three Man of the Match awards and a goal or an assist in each of his five starts, we’ve seen some clever tactical variation around him. In six games since switching to an elastic 3-4-3, NYCFC has built its attack directly up the middle, patiently through the wings and by switching the field early to disrupt the low block. Against the Galaxy they showed off a bouquet of adjustments in a single game.

Los Angeles, whose setup can be summarized in just one word, are on the opposite end of the flexibility spectrum; they’re constantly looking to funnel the ball to one tall, Swedish point of attack. After a midweek injury to midfield linchpin Jonathan Dos Santos, coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto fumbled to adapt. For the first time in his short MLS tenure, Schelotto switched to a five-man backline, giving free rein to right wingback Julian Araujo while Diedie Traore stayed closer to home on the left.

Whether forced by the Galaxy’s defensive shape, lured by the space behind Araujo, or coasting in the tailwind of the returning Rónald Matarrita, NYCFC built heavily up the left flank. Instead of the long switches of play we saw last week, this time NYCFC created a flurry of chances through Matarrita, Maxi Moralez, and Tony Rocha’s intricate positional exchanges on the left.

By pushing the midfielders into the attacking half, NYCFC was able to recycle possession and create chances up the left side.

As good teams do, the Galaxy adjusted. But so did NYCFC. When L.A. started to push their wingbacks upfield for greater control, NYCFC responded by playing through the center. That’s when Tinnerholm, who’d been stranded on an island with only Traore for company, slipped inside to devastating effect, turning a channel run into a shot from the top of the box and gifting Héber a goal off the rebound. Traore was exposed again on the well-executed set piece that led to the second goal. At the end of a half they’d dominated for long stretches without scoring, NYCFC had finally found a leak, which Schelotto was forced to repair by subbing off the 20-year-old midfielder at the break.

L.A. came out for the second half in a more familiar 4-2-3-1, pressing higher and pushing numbers forward to support the Zlatan show, and NYCFC shifted again, sitting deeper and looking to play on the counter. James Sands continues to look assured against tough opponents, but it was Maxime Chanot who made man-marking Ibrahimović look like his typical day at the office: bailing out teammates, suffering his usual one soul-crushing mental lapse, and faking a time-wasting head injury. Ibra, who came into the week averaging a goal a game, was held to 0.69 expected goals while achieving a career high in unexpected chokeholds.

With a comfortable cushion, Dome tossed some late-game minutes to players in need of match fitness: Alexandru Mitriță had a few promising touches and fans were treated to a rare glimpse of Keaton Parks in the wild. Tony Rocha’s bounceback game in Ebenezer Ofori’s slot (and later at left wingback) was an encouraging sign of depth for the long season ahead.

Is this what a pretty pinecone smells like, or has Dome only temporarily improved the ambience with pine-scented candles? Only a fool would rush in. But if NYCFC continues to solve opponents’ adjustments like this, we might all start dreaming of the scent of silverware polish. ❧

Image: Édouard Manet, Young Lady in 1866