HARRISON, N.J. — The tactical chess match between coaches Dome Torrent and Chris Armas was always going to be one of the more intriguing aspects of the latest chapter of the New York Derby.
On the surface it appeared both were successful, with Torrent’s plan guiding New York City FC to a dominant first half and Armas’ subtle tweaks the difference in the second half for the New York Red Bulls in their 2-1 victory Sunday night at Red Bull Arena.
Torrent, who opted for three center backs to go along with a pair of No. 6s to take away space centrally, said the Red Bulls are a team that can be controlled when they have the ball. When they don’t is when they are most dangerous.
He wanted his team to play quickly, with one and two touches, and utilized the mobility of the front three of Maxi Moralez, Heber and Taty Castellanos to create spaces and numerical advantages against the Red Bulls backline.
As they often do, fullbacks Ronald Matarrita and Anton Tinnerholm flew into the attack to also put pressure on the Red Bulls defense. That was the case on Heber’s 7th-minute goal when he scored first-time off a quickly whipped in Tinnerholm cross.
“I think we play much better, especially in the first half,” Torrent said. “We create two or three opportunities to win the game. But I say many times, it’s not about if you play much better than the opponent. They always play in the same way and they get the results all the time. Congratulations, Red Bull.”
Most important, Torrent said, was to not turn the ball over, especially in the middle of the field because that plays into the Red Bulls’ greatest strength — their ability to quickly play forward and create chances off turnovers.
NYCFC were successful with that until the final moments of the first half when, following a Matarrita turnover in midfield, Michael Murillo quickly slipped a pass to Alex Muyl, who played a dime to Brian White. The forward took the ball off his chest as Maxime Chanot made a desperate attempt to challenge, but caught White, who went down in the box.
Referee Alan Kelly pointed to the spot and Danny Royer converted the penalty kick. Despite being the better side in the first 45 minutes, NYCFC had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
Armas said he was pleased with how his team came out in the first half, but rued his team’s turnovers, especially in the middle of the field. He said Sean Davis and Cristian Casseres were often trying to play behind the NYCFC backline in the opening 45 minutes.
Armas told his team, and specially Davis and Casseres, to remain aggressive, but just “play in the spaces that we want to play.” And to do it quicker.
The change was immediate and dramatic.
Armas also credited his fullbacks, who rotated on the weak side to negate the numerical advantage NYCFC had up front, and Davis for his defensive work against Moralez in the second half.
“All of a sudden, the whole thing was a little bit different,” Armas said. “Even with the outside backs, oftentimes not going so high. It’s a little more shallow. We got them on the ball early. We saw Murillo very involved. And against the ball, I think it was clear to see we were much more aggressive with our backline.”