CARSON, Calif. -- New York City FC slumped to the finish last year and needed seven games to notch their first victory this season, but things have certainly turned around since head coach Dome Torrent switched systems a month ago.
NYCFC dominated the first half and did enough after the break to make a 2-0 halftime advantage stick Saturday afternoon against the LA Galaxy, posting their third straight road clean sheet while extending their unbeaten streak to seven games with their fourth shutout in the last five outings.
They limited realistic chances for the Galaxy, who were coming off two road losses back east in the previous week and missing midfield general Jonathan dos Santos, until the 80th minute and vaulted to fourth in the Eastern Conference with an emphatic and at times dominant triumph.
“Maybe we find the right system for us, because it's three clean sheets in a row when we play away,” said Torrent, a Spaniard who took charge at NYCFC last summer. “But it's not about that. It's about the feeling. Sometimes you are not able to score, but the feeling is natural, and right now this team has the possibility to win something.”
NYCFC (4-1-6) have been a contender since their second MLS campaign, finishing second in the East in 2016 and 2017 but falling at the first playoff hurdle. They were third last year and again reached the conference semifinals, but went 4-8-4 down the stretch, including two postseason defeats to Atlanta United.
This year's start wasn't great. They dropped just one of the first six games, a 4-0 debacle March 29 in Toronto, but could do no better than draw the others, even while posting two shutouts.
In the last of these games, Torrent swapped out a 4-2-3-1 alignment for a 3-4-3 that turned into something akin to a 5-3-1 when the opponent was attacking. They pulled out a 3-3 draw at Minnesota United in the opening match at Allianz Field and have been nearly unstoppable since.
“I think we've been playing like this the last six or seven games, every since we changed our system,” captain Alex Ring, who reigned over his side's midfield dominance for much of the match at Dignity Health Sports Park, told MLSsoccer.com. “We didn't play bad before, but the results weren't as we wished. We drew too many times.
“I think we've found ourselves now the formation that suits the way our players can express themselves best, and we're reaping the rewards at the moment.”
NYCFC limited LA to two first-half shots and just one shot on goal over 100 minutes, stoppage included. Zlatan Ibrahimovic hit the crossbar late and Chris Pontius' rebound was high, but there weren't a whole lot of chances otherwise for the Galaxy to trim an advantage built on Heber's rebound in the 44th minute and Maxi Moralez's penalty kick at the end of first-half stoppage.
NYCFC have conceded just one goal in the last 417 minutes, and their road wins in that stretch -- all by 2-0 scorelines -- have come against strong competition: D.C. United (6-3-2), Montreal (6-5-2) and now LA (7-4-1). One more road win, and they'll equal last year's total.
“I take pride in that, keeping the ball out of the back of the net,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “I think for the last four games we've been really, really good, both home and on the road, and we have to have that mentality. And now that we've set that bar, there's another level for us to achieve, and everybody's hungry.”
Ring says the new system works because “positionally we have the guys in the right spots.”
“We've put a lot of work into it, and that's why it feels this good after games ...,” he said. “And a shutout, especially for Sean, is important, because at the start of the season, he saved us a couple of points, and he deserves it.”