In our preview of the match we discussed key matchups that the Dynamo will face and look to exploit along with a few statistical comparisons between each side. Still, we wanted to know NYCFC's side as they look to turn their season around so we spoke with Rafael Noboa y Rivera to see what's going on with his club's inaugural year.
Dynamo Theory: Currently sitting at the bottom of our league table, New York City FC is having some difficulty making the same kind of noise that other expansion side Orlando City SC is making despite only being 6 points away from a playoff position. What kind of adjustments need to be made and how does Frank Lampard's arrival play into those plans to make a push for a playoff position?
Hudson River Blue: Where do we begin? Let's start with the fact that this roster isn't well constructed. It's heavy on attacking midfielders, has only one defensive midfielder, and one box-to-box midfielder. Matt Dunn is the defensive midfielder, with only 52 minutes of game time — as a defender in emergency duty. Andrew Jacobson is the box-to-box midfielder, but he's been used as a holding midfielder.
Those roster issues extend to the play on the field. Although Jason Kreis has used five different formations this season, for the most part NYC have lined up in either a flat 4-4-2 or an empty bucket 4-4-2. This setup usually has Ned Grabavoy and Mehdi Ballouchy on the wings, and Mix Diskerud and Jacobson deep in the middle, with Mix acting as a box-to-box all-action guy and Jacobson holding.
It doesn't work.
You ever watched a puppy deal with multiple toys in their play area? You ever seen that pup dashing madly to and fro from toy to toy? That's Mix Diskerud playing box-to-box midfielder. He runs all over the midfield; then he's helping out the backline. Now he's up front! But to what end? It's unclear. What ends up happening is that Diskerud tries to do so much, he ends up doing nothing at all.
On top of that, having David Villa means that New York City are committing to a two-striker system of some kind. Villa, for all his talents, can't operate as a sole target striker. He's at his best playing off a target man, making runs into space, and feasting on what comes of that. So: two strikers. Which we've seen Kreis deploy over and over again.
Except that he doesn't have a midfield capable of doing that.
So, now we're back to the original sin of roster construction. Kreis is partly responsible for that — six of the players are former RSL players, after all — but I hold sporting director Claudio Reyna far more responsible. He was literally the club's first hire, and he functions as the general manager for the team. He's responsible for the bulk of the players wearing NYC blue. The returns, so far, are dispiriting.
New York City were already climbing a huge mountain because they were starting from scratch, unlike Orlando. To hire someone with no MLS experience for arguably the most important position was, I thought then, a massive risk. I think now it was a huge mistake. There was nothing to recommend Claudio Reyna to New York City other than his former playing experience for Manchester City, his tenure as captain of the USMNT, and his roots in the New York area. He had no experience in constructing a team roster; in a league with the kind of opaque roster rules that MLS has, that's well-nigh suicidal.
As far as adjustments go, let's start with Lampard's arrival, because that's going to be the only way some of these happen. Lampard can operate as an attacking midfielder, as a holding midfielder, or as a box-to-box midfielder. Given New York City's glut of attacking mids, I'd prefer for Lampard to operate in a Pirlo-esque role, as a deep-lying playmaker. This plays into his strengths, particularly his vision. Have Andrew Jacobson move from a holding role to a box-to-box role, which is his natural position.
That frees you up to move Mix to the best position for him: on the right, playing off the shoulder of Jacobson or Lampard. That's the only position that Mix should be occupying on the field. He doesn't have the defensive chops to be a holder, he doesn't have the all-around skills to operate from box to box, and he doesn't have the attacking vision to be a number 10.
That's where I'd start. Even then, I doubt that New York City makes the playoffs; there's too many disparate parts for Kreis to try to fit together, and that's before Reyna signs a third DP.
DT: At 9 goals finished in 12 matches, NYCFC's attacking power leaves a little lacking in terms of potency. David Villa's health has been an on-again, off-again concern, but how important has he been to the offense and who is the number 2 option if Villa doesn't have his shooting boots on or isn't healthy?
HRB: Ballouchy is actually the team's leading scorer, so he's whom I'd look to besides Villa. Your other options are likely Patrick Mullins and Khiry Shelton. But Mullins has been starved of service when he's played, and Shelton is both too green and hasn't been used properly yet.
DT: It's incredibly difficult for expansion clubs to enter into a league and immediately compete for the league trophy. With big names like Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Mix Diskerud early expectations must've been pretty high for the club. How have those expectations changed so far?
HRB: Oh, man.
It's become chic to say that most New York City fans didn't have high expectations, but the truth is that the vast majority of people expected the team to perform far, far better than it has thus far. Especially after beating New England at home in their second game.
The fact that we're still talking about this team making the playoffs, despite it being far more likely that it sets records for offensive and defensive futility and general awfulness, tells you everything you need to know about the expectations New York City fans had. We talked about New York City's lack of scoring punch. We need to also talk about their defensive porousness.
New York City has given up eight goals in the first 30 minutes of games.
Eight! That number leads MLS. Not only can the team not score goals, they're playing 60 minutes of every game down a goal!
That's not conducive to making the playoffs. It's great that Lampard is coming, but he's one player. It's an 11-player game. He — and David Villa, and Mix Diskerud, and whomever comes on board as the third DP — can only do so much. At the end of the day, Lampard is still passing the ball to Adam Nemec, who's positively allergic to scoring anywhere outside Slovakia, or in a Slovakian jersey.
As New York City's general impotence has become more and more manifest, I've seen people become either more depressed or frantic in their frustration. It's a bit like watching someone go through the Five Stages of Sporting Grief. It's rough.
The good thing is that by and large, people haven't stopped following the team, haven't stopped caring. That matters. Kreis will figure something out; he's too good a coach not to. If I were to make a change, it would be to remove Reyna as GM, and hire someone who really knows MLS in his stead. Ideally, they would've gotten Garth Lagerwey, but I hear Tim Leiweke is available.
For my answers to Rafael's excellent questions, head over to Hudson River Blue and check them out!