New York City FC cruised into the quarterfinals of Concacaf Champions League on Wednesday with an assured 1-0 victory over AD San Carlos, closing the book on the opening round of their maiden voyage in the tournament.
With last week’s 5-3 first-leg win in their pocket, this was very much a case of managing the match for the Cityzens. Here’s three aspects of their performance that bode well for their CCL hopes, which are in for a severe test in the form of Liga MX Goliath Tigres UANL.
Goose the throttle, ease the throttle
NYCFC impressed us all with their ability to jet thousands of miles from home and rack up a whopping five away goals in a hostile leg 1 environment while still in preseason periodization mode. Their late laxity in allowing San Carlos to break them down three times was a red flag, however, hinting at frailties that superior opponents could exploit in later rounds.
So Wednesday’s controlled, clean-sheet display was just what the doctor ordered for Ronny Deila & Co. Their measured possession kept them in control of the clock and the tempo, and a focus on defensive cohesion – Deila started the same back four as last week – muffled any San Carlos hopes of a dramatic rally.
They even kept their heads well enough when the frustrated visitors began snapping into some burly challenges late on, avoiding the yellow cards that can come back to bite down the road. This type of savvy can take you a long way in this competition.
NYCFC also got a chance to rest Heber and Keaton Parks, and maxed out their subs to spread minutes around. They can travel to Columbus for Sunday’s league opener (12:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) with clear heads and relatively fresh legs, whatever tactical approach Deila decides on for that one.
MLS’s earliest-ever start to the new season put the five CCL clubs in a tight spot in terms of their ability to get match-fit in time for the opening round. But if you can survive that, as the Cityzens have, here’s where it provides a significant benefit.
Concacaf have scheduled the quarterfinal round to open in the March 10-12 time window, as opposed to last year’s unfolding over March 5-6. Combine that with 2020’s early opening weekend and you get a week’s break for NYCFC and the rest of the CCL round of 16 winners, which is absolutely critical time for the MLS teams to build fitness and hone their principles of play.
Katie bar the door
One thing the blue half of New York didn’t have to show in this series – or for much of 2019’s march to the top of the Eastern Conference regular-season standings, frankly – was their capacity for sitting deep, absorbing pressure and emergency defending.
They will almost certainly have to do plenty of that in the next round, and along any further progress they may make in this competition.
A proactive, front-foot team like NYCFC can assert themselves on a knockout game’s rhythm and tone. They’ll still need to keep organized and composed to weather storms of pressure, especially on the road, and marshal all hands to the pump when the time comes.
Here it must be noted that we’re still not sure where the Cityzens will host their quarterfinal home leg, thanks to their paucity of acceptable venues around Gotham. The awkward site of Red Bull Arena wasn't exactly rocking for this one, and there’s no getting around it: Giving up such a big chunk of home-field advantage in this tournament is far from ideal.