How the coach’s halftime adjustment turned around a tough game.
Dome Torrent might just know what he’s doing as a soccer coach. In a halftime interview on Saturday after a bumpy first 45 minutes against Philadelphia, he promised changes to calm his team down, cut off the Union’s penetration, and get his wingers into open wide spaces. What he delivered in the second half looked like maybe the best team in the Eastern Conference.
But he didn’t turn the game around with subs, at least not until late. Torrent understood the problem wasn’t with his personnel but the way he was deploying them.
NYCFC’s starting 3-4-3 shape (slash 5-2-3 slash 3-5-2 slash whatever, you know the drill) dropped Alex Ring into central defense, where he looked to lob diagonals to advanced wingbacks in the buildup. It’s a tactic that’s been successful for Torrent in the past, but the Union were happy to check their press and focus on cutting off progress through midfield while inviting Ben Sweat and Anton Tinnerholm up the flanks to corral possession in non-shooting areas.
Off the ball, NYCFC’S defensive problems boiled down to the dreadful combination of a high back line and way too much space in the midfield. Keaton Parks desperately needed reinforcements in the no man’s land between the lines, and the problem only got worse as Maxi Moralez drifted upfield in response to Philadelphia’s early goals. The Union teased NYCFC’s press with deep possession that stretched the gap between the lines into an open wound—just watch Harris Medunjanin receive in midfield with time to turn, take a nap, and knife a ball through the exposed back line.
Philadelphia’s early dominance cued up that halftime interview where Dome promised changes, but it was really just one big change that turned the game on its head: switching to a 4-2-3-1 returned Alex Ring to his midfield roots, tugged the wingbacks into traditional fullback positions, and finally handed NYCFC control of the game.
Even the most ardent Keaton Parks truthers would admit he had an anonymous first half, but he flourished with a friend in midfield. The ruthless Parks-Ring double pivot solved the problem in the center of the park, freeing each other to defend more assertively—they completed a couple tackles each in the second half, compared to zero from Maxi and Parks in the first—and saving the center backs from having to choose between marking players running at and behind them.
Meanwhile, NYCFC’s attack mercifully pumped the brakes on the longballs (48 in the first half, 36 in the second) in favor of a more patient buildup through Maxi’s creative presence in the central channel. The play below is an example of the quick passing combinations that cut out Union defenders en route to the final third. The clearance that starts the move is the kind of ball NYCFC was losing in the 3-4-3 midfield gap but now had bodies in place to recover.
His miss here aside, there wasn’t much to complain about from Taty Castellanos’s night at center forward. His diploma from the James Harden Academy of Foul Drawing paid off with a pair of penalties and a permanent residence under the skin of every person in Philadelphia. (By the end of the game the Union were so frustrated it looked like Raymon Gaddis was about to square up with the referee, but I guess getting nutmegged by Ben Sweat will do that to even the mildest of tempers.) Oh yeah, and Castellanos also scored two goals of his own while showing off some rapidly improving linkup play to go with his phenomenal workrate.
But it was Dome’s tactical adjustment that sparked the comeback. About two-thirds of NYCFC’s non-penalty expected goals came in the second half, as the team’s share of possession climbed from 55% to 63%, and the defensive fix was so effective that Marco Fábian’s 20-minute sub appearance might as well never have happened. It was the kind of smart coaching move that shows how well Torrent’s starting to understand this league and his team. ❧