A brief conversation between myself and my colleague, Bobby Warshaw, in the aftermath of Wednesday night's 1-0 New England win at NYCFC. It broke a nine-game winless streak for the Revs, and was the first home loss of the year for the Cityzens.
Bobby Warshaw (BW): Domè Torrent, man. He's not short on ideas. We could do a bracket before every game on how he will line the team and I'm not sure anyone would ever get it. Starting Maxi Moralez at striker tonight, David Villa on the left, and Ronald Matarrita in midfield!
Matthew Doyle (MD): You know who had thoughts about that, Bobby? Do you know? David Villa had thoughts about that:
A frustrated Villa has Torrent's ear as they walk off the field. #NYCvNE— Dylan Butler (@Dylan_Butler) September 5, 2018
I would be shocked if that conversation was about anything other than “What the hell are we doing here, and why do we try something new every week?”
BW: Mmm.. I'm gonna call you out on that conjecture. We have no idea if Villa was venting about Torrent or to Torrent.
MD: Por que no los dos?
BW: Possibly. Either way, the point remains that it's another week, another new formation/system.
I think I know how to pinpoint the main difference in NYC lately, though. They lack the courage and trust that they had before. What makes a possession team, beyond technical ability? The courage to make tight passes and the trust in teammates to deal with it. They've lost both of those lately. Where they previously would have made the short pass in tight spaces to a teammate, they now avoid those. And it means they take less risks, obviously, but it also means they don't get the rewards of possession.
MD: I was nodding as I was reading that. I think we saw flashes of it early on, though. This was a particularly “Vieira” build-up:
There just haven’t been too many of those, though, and I think “confidence” is as likely an explanation as anything else. And where does confidence come from? Repetition. Drilling down on something fundamental and developing trust that everybody’s on the same page.
NYCFC don’t have that right now, and haven’t for months. It’s a concern. It might be a season-defining one – to be honest, it's feeling like it after this result.
BW: I think in this situation, the loss of courage/trust has led to the loss in confidence. We always talk about the risk in changing systems from game to game, and this is it. Once you implant an idea in a player's brain – "this game we are going to play direct because we don't want to give away bad turnovers" – the player always has that nugget factoring into his decision making. If you want to do something as complicated as keeping possession in tight spots, you need complete mental and emotional commitment. We use to give Vieira a hard time for not diverging, but you can see why he would choose that.
I'm at the stadium right now and this place just went quiet real fast (after Brian Wright's 71st-minute goal). Well, except for the person behind me yelling "are you %^&*!@# serious". And I know we've talked a lot today about NYC's tactical choices, but from my vantage point this game has been more about just finishing their chances.
MD: mehhhhh… they’ve had one big-ish chance so far (Valentin Castellanos in the 9th minute) that came off a long-ball. They’ve had a ton of the ball otherwise, but not a ton of great chances. Clearly the better team, but not the more effective team.
And at this point I’d imagine a lot of NYCFC fans are wondering if Domè’s ever going to be able to marry the theoretical stuff he’s doing with these constant tactical adjustments to the god known as “effectiveness.”
BW: It's looked to me like they've had a TON of half chances that you would usually expect these guys to finish. But maybe you're seeing something on the wider TV angle that I'm not.
Can we talk about James Sands for a second? He just got subbed out, but I thought he was excellent tonight. He played a very conservative role, primarily sitting in front of the back four and playing simple passes, but he did it well. He stayed disciplined in his positioning – no small feat for an 18 year old – and blew up a couple counters nicely.
MD: From watching on TV, he looked fine – not out of place at all. He missed a couple of passes (one time going up the line when he could’ve/should’ve tried to split defenders to Villa’s feet), but all in all a promising MLS debut. And he was much better defensively than Ebenezer Ofori's been in that role.
By the way: Isaac Angking was the more impressive teenaged debut tonight. He was active and smart with his off-the-ball movement, and in a lot of ways was the most effective New England attacker, after only Juan Agudelo. He brought them a little bit of quality on the ball where it had been lacking.
EDIT: This was actually Sands' season debut. He played 23 minutes last year.
BW: Does this result mean New England has a lifeline for a playoff spot?
MD: Yeah, they’ve got a playoff lifeline for sure. Three points back of Montreal now with a game in hand… I think they’ll be happy enough with that, given how miserable their summer’s been.
BW: That's wild. I can't believe they are still that close to the line.
One of the big differences tonight has been their defending in their own half. They've had a nice bank of eight for parts of the game. That's basically what we've been hoping they would get better at all year. Tonight was the first time they've shown any ability to do it.
MD: I guess. You’re always willing to give more credit to teams that just park the bus than I am. To me this was basically just putting as many men behind the ball as possible, taking no chances in distribution, and hoping that NYCFC continue to sputter. Which is what happened. I’m sure they’re relieved to get the full three points though. First win in more than two months.
BW: But it still takes some tactical ability to "bunker"! And they didn't have that ability at any point before tonight! Credit where credit’s due. If they had been able to build any coherent block of eight before tonight, they would be at least several points higher than they are now.
MD: Ok, credit where it's due – they conceded almost 30 shots and still won. On the road. It was a resolute performance, and unexpected given their recent form.
I'm just not convinced it's something they can really build upon.
BW: Yeah, it’s definitely a super uphill battle to the playoffs. But it was an impressive win tonight that should make Revs fans happy for a night.