Sunday May 21st 2017
Final: NYCFC 3 @ Orlando City 0
Going into the game, Orlando City looked to have an advantage for several reasons. First is that they were still unbeaten this MLS season in their new stadium. Second was that Cyle Larin was in terrific form this season with 7 goals so far this season. He also had 9 goals in 7 starts against NYCFC, including a two goal game back in April. Third was that both had played a midweek away, night game in which Orlando tied 1-1 to San Jose and NYCFC lost to RSL 2-1. Orlando got an extra day rest due to travel. This was going to be NYCFC's 3rd road game in 8 days, which is a lot to handle. Lastly, NYCFC had already lost to Orlando twice this year and was trying to avoid being swept.
Tough pressure considering a team has your number, you have been traveling a lot and your deep-lying playmaker, Pirlo, was out of the line-up. Because of this background, I expected to see Orlando control the bulk of the play and be the ones to take the game to NYCFC. Both teams prefer tho build the ball from the back into the midfield and wouldn't rely on being direct unless forced to. Viera has really emphasized this at NYCFC and at times their play can be viewed as unnecessarily costly. However this unique focus compared to other MLS teams is still a process and I was sure Viera would continue it despite the for mentioned things going against them.
(arrows signify movement with and without the ball)
Offensively: 4-1-2-1-2 (4-4-2 with a diamond, but 1 free roamer Kaka)
Here Orlando's full backs would get high, CB's would split and #23 Nocerino would anchor. The next closest players to offer support for Nocerino were #7 Higuita and #8 Johnson (who would be the one to advance further in the attack). Kaka played at the top of the diamond but was essentially allowed to drop deep to pick up the ball. When he dropped deep to get the ball in front of NYCFC's midfield line, the problem was then a lack of players playing in between the lines. Johnson and Higuita would from time to time, but no one would consistently take Kaka's place because Rivas would like to drift wide and Larin would occupy the CB's or try to stretch the back line.
Defensively: 4-3-3 (high press)
They came out guns blazing first 10 minutes and did a good job winning the ball in NYCFC's half. NYCFC visibly struggled to play out of pressure until after they went up 1-0. They would typically start the press off the goal-kick from Johnson. However, later in the first half and many times in the second half, NYCFC would break the first 4-5 pressing players and play into a situation where Orlando was no longer compact and the man on the ball had time to slot someone in or switch the field. If NYCFC's movement ahead of the ball was better timed (many offsides and the time they got the movement right when they scored) they would've had more than two in the first half. I thought the pressing was sloppy at times and knowing that NYCFC would try to build no-matter what would've allowed for a more structured, organized press.
Offensively: 4-1-2-3 (variant of a 4-3-3)
In the first 10 minutes (before their goal in the '13th), NYCFC really struggled to retain and advance the ball from their half. Orlando repressed in NYCFC's low block and as a result, NYCFC defenders and midfielders went long to Villa unsuccessfully. It was interesting how that early PK from Villa completely settled NYCFC. It always interesting how often an unrelated event effects a certain tendency within the game. I thought their second goal in the '34th minute by Wallace was really well earned. It started with a throw-in which was unconventional but the ball was switched quickly and then the timing of the overlap to produce the cross and the timing of the far post run by Wallace to stay onside and frame the goal was excellent. In my opinion, if you are going to set-up in a low block, then these are critical moments (transitions, out of play, mistakes by the attacker) to exploit the opposition. Harrison and Wallace do a very good job staying wide at important times allowing more room for the midfielders to combine and for forward balls to be found into Villa.
Defensively: 4-2-3-1 (medium/low block)
In the first half, NYCFC established a line of confrontation around their own 40 yard line. I'd consider this a low block. They would get all their men behind the ball and compact their own half. Ring anchored the space in front of the back four and Lopez and Moralez got along next to him. Harrison and Wallace would tuck inside again to make the midfield congested. Im sure part of this had to do with traveling heavily recently and knowing that eliminating the space for Larin and Rivas to stretch early on would be beneficial.
Half-Time Reflections from me:
Orlando- The positives were that they continued to be on the front foot and continued to bring the game to NYCFC. They had lots of possession in NYCFC's half and therefor forced NYCFC to try to play out of congested areas, which is difficult.
What I would've liked to see improve for the second half was to be a bit more direct play at times. These incidents would've been when NYCFC had worked the ball up field, had lost it in Orlando's half and therefore weren't in a position to get into their low block. See if they could counter on a NYCFC counter and find Larin earlier. Another point would be to utilize the fullbacks more when trying to penetrate the low block more. I thought this didn't come out much in the first half and by being aggressive with your fullbacks (using maximum width), it tends to stretch the distance between the defending players.
NYCFC- They must have been very pleased to be up 2-0 despite all the mentioned things leading up to the game. Orlando didn't deal with the corner well and it was lazy defending from Kaka in the box. Away teams must be critical of the home team's mistakes and NYCFC did that in the 13th. Their timing of movement and runs to penetrate Orlando needed to improve in the final third but ultimately their game plan was working. I would've advised to keep their emotions under control because the end of the first half was very chippy and an early red card to a winning away team in the second half would put them under for the rest of the game.
Summary & Take-Away Thoughts:
Orlando came out stronger than how they ended the first half and continued to bring the game to NYCFC. However, I never really felt like they controlled the game. You dont need to control possession to control the game after-all. NYCFC made a great decision to not sit as deep as before. They engaged Orlando around midfield and at times higher which would not let Orlando be as direct and aggressive as possible, especially in transition. Orlando did use their right fullback to great effect in the 64th minute and caught the NYCFC fullback sleeping. This resulted in a PK which if converted might have seen a dramatic finish. However, after the miss Larin was inexistent and NYCFC killed the game off when they hit them on the break through Villa.
In my opinion, NYCFC certainly deserved the win solely because they executed their game plan far better. They were compact, organized and disciplined defensively versus Orlando City who were sloppy in their press and allowed moments where NYCFC could switch the field and attack quickly (example being the second goal). NYCFC was more swift and effective in offensive transition, which should've been something for Orlando to adopt to their game plan. Just like in baseball however, it is very hard to beat a team 3x in a row.