Monday, March 14, 2016

Sunday MLS: NYC squanders two goal lead, San Jose out grits Portland

New York City 2-2 Toronto FC
In Patrick Vieira's first home match in charge of New York City, he went and did something rather odd. He lined his troops up in the old 3-2-2-3, or the WM formation. This setup has not been in vogue since the 1920s, which goes to show the sort of outside the box thinking required to succeed on the awfully narrow pitch at Yankee Stadium. The unorthodox tactics were working for NYC early on. Toronto was sitting unusually deep, which allowed the home team to get a couple of nice chances on goal in the first 20 minutes. Their forward thinking earned themselves a penalty at the stroke of 23 minutes. Thomas McNamara was tripped in the box by Marky Delgado and David Villa knocked home the PK to open the scoring. Villa would earn his brace four minutes later by latching onto a floater at the top of the six yard box for an easy tap in. He did get the benefit of an officiating error, though. A handball against Villa probably should have waved the goal dead.

Where New York City played an outstanding first half, Toronto was nothing short of woeful. Their back line was disorganized and allowed far too many chances. Their midfield seemed interested in nothing more than lobbing failed long balls at Sebastian Giovinco. Whenever they tried to build play from the back and work the ball into a threatening position, the pass was sloppy and led to an easy takeaway for NYC. Later in the half they did start to press forward. But, when they did, the final ball, whether it was the key pass or the actual shot, was poorly placed, this squandering the attack. Giovinco rescued the half with the final action before the whistle. His free kick made somehow made it through everyone before taking the slightest touch off Damien Perquis for the goal.

Toronto knew that they would have to get aggressively further forward in the second half. They would have to do it against a further retreating New York defensive line. They kept their 3-2-2-3 shape for much of the time, but each of those midfield layers became less and less interested in attacking as the game moved on. Sebastian Giovinco ended up being the man again. The reigning MVP (who is too good to play in MLS) took what little space he was given and rolled a shot inside the far post for a 76th minute equalizer.

While Viera’s use of a most unconventional formation was a strange one, in the end, I think it worked quite well. The knock on the pitch at Yankee Stadium is its extreme narrowness that limits the use of wide players. If wide players are ineffective, why even put them out there? Why present the illusion of width when it is useless anyway? The 2-2 midfield forced New York City to play to their strengths and to the strengths of the physical space available. Because of this, their attack was quite effective. It was just a shame that their weak defending couldn’t keep things together to hold onto the win.

San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 Portland Timbers
Portland started this one off with their back four taking a bit of a hit. Already without the eventual starter Chris Klute, Liam Ridgewell was forced to miss this one with a hamstring injury. This forced Zarek Valentin into the left back role while pushing Jermaine Taylor to the middle. This could have had San Jose’s attackers licking their chops as Chris Wondolowski thrives in an irresponsible defensive environment. Add to that the monsoon conditions that turned the pitch into a swamp, and you never know what could happen.

Portland came out playing their game right off the bat. Within the first six minutes, they had already worked a couple of nice attacks from wide areas that resulted in a minor chance and a blast off the crossbar. The field conditions were definitely taking a toll on the pace of play. Both sides experienced slips and falls that would not have been a factor on a dry pitch.

San Jose was not getting many chances at all, but they have a tendency to just show up and score out of nowhere. Wondolowski did just that in the 30th minute when he received a low pass at the near post from Anibal Godoy for a right footed finish from close range. Their lead would double in first half stoppage time again against the run of play. Quincy Amarikwa went on a nearly legendary run down the right flank before catching Adam Kwarasey slightly off his line and bombing a perfect shot over the keeper’s head into the top corner. This bolstered San Jose and shocked Portland heading into the break.

Portland would need a greater sense of urgency in the second half if they wanted any hope of a comeback. Their first half play showed the potential for goals, but the final ball was always missing. It was a story that Timbers fans are all too familiar with. They outshot and out possessed their opposition, but none of those shots were finding the net. San Jose’s crazy shot blocking ability certainly didn’t help their cause.

WIth the aim of increasing finishing ability, Jack McInerney was brought on for Dairon Asprilla shortly after the hour mark to add a body in the box. It didn’t exactly work right away. While, yes, they did add a target in the penalty area, they lost out on the ability to serve the ball up for him. The remaining half hour was defined by the Timbers forcing passes into the middle and turning the ball over. Fanendo Adi had the best chance with a little less than a quarter hour to go when he got behind the San Jose line, but looked to slip on the shot and skied it over the bar. McInerney scored his first Timber goal in the 89th minute with an opportune pounce onto a bouncing ball into the six yard box, but it was too little, too late for the Timbers.

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