Part One, covering New York City's, lineup and form was posted yesterday
Keeping with this preview's form of highlighting a key player of concern – every team in MLS has at least one focal point that can cause trouble – David Villa is undoubtedly the most dangerous man on the pitch for New York.
Though he has yet to hit full stride and has been playing in a struggling side, Villa has scored four goals and registered three assists through twelve appearances. And it is not just his ability to score himself, but the very Spanish knack of playing through tight defenses that marks his as a dangerman.
Consider Khiry Shelton's late equalizer against Chicago on May 15, a match that marked the beginning of City's resurgence. Down two goals and a man after a first-half red card, Mehdi Ballouchy grabbed one before half-time, but it was Villa, after the ball found him atop the right-side of the area, that drew all the attention from the Chicago defenders, allowing him to slip a neat ball in for Shelton who beat the keeper with a low drive:
Should Toronto focus too much attention of Villa, he will combine with those around him to find those gaps, sending the defenders scrambling, and then he himself will move into position to exploit the impending confusion.
Though a very different player, Villa has shown some similar tendencies to another New York-based MLS legend: Thierry Henry. Villa will drift to the wide spaces on the left to find room to manoeuvre and is more than willing to drop deep into midfield in order to get on the ball and help create.
When his ability to cut in from wide is combined with Jason Kreis' use of width, especially from the full-back positions, New York can overload either side of the pitch, outnumbering defenders in attack and create chances such as that which led to Villa's goal against Montreal, when a ball down the left for Ned Grabavoy was pulled-back to Patrick Mullins, who in turn found Ballouchy to square to Villa at the near-post:
Know Your Enemy's projected lineup has both RJ Allen and Shay Facey in the starting eleven, and those two in particular, rather than a Jeb Brovsky or Chris Wingert, have that youthful exuberance, a willingness to run, a brashness to commit forward, and a certain fearlessness of consequences at the other end – more on that later.
Toronto will have to be very wary of allowing City to take that numerical advantage in wide positions – a healthy portion of responsibility will fall on the outside midfielders to track back – while also keeping a close eye on the machinations of Villa and Company as they look to find gaps in the defensive structure.
Where Villa relies more on his experience and guile to create chances, his strike partner, regardless of whom they may be, is often a physical presence, a version of the classic little and large, providing a counterpart to occupy defenders, thus freeing Villa to do as he pleases.
Adam Nemec is a brute, while the likes of Patrick Mullins, the injured duo of Tony Taylor and Khiry Shelton, and Kwadwo Poku, are both big and fast, not to mention tenacious. Their running will stretch the play, while their physicality will impede Toronto defenses from focusing solely on Villa.
Mullins, who was selected out of New England in the Expansion Draft following a strong rookie season, is tied for second in team scoring with Ballouchy on three goals. His effort against Philadelphia proved the game-winner, muscling into the box from a throw-in to find space to send a low shot across the keeper:
Toronto must match that physicality in and around the area, while not conceding any penalty kicks, which Villa will no doubt dispatch.
Not only do those forwards have the strength to make space, but the more fleet-of-foot – Poku, Mullins, Shelton – will work their proverbial socks off in closing down the ball-carrier, exhibiting some of that high-pressure for which Kreis is renown.
Mix Diskerud, a quality player in his own right, was the beneficiary of just such work from Poku against Montreal when the big midfielder-turned-striker spotted Wandrille Lefevre in an awkward, isolated position. When he stumbled, Poku pounced, stealing the ball and finding Diskerud on the right for a shot:
Note how it was not just Poku, but also Villa, who committed forward, cancelling Lefevre's ability to play back to his keeper, and how slow his Montreal teammates were to come to his aid with options. Toronto must be careful on the ball and willing to work for each other, should anyone be similarly isolated.
With such willing runners and quality on the ball, it should come as no surprise that New York can be devastating on the counter – their third against Montreal scored by Poku on a Villa set-up provides evidence:
And they have plenty of players capable of pulling a moment of quality out of their back pocket: Villa, Diskerud, Ballouchy, even the under-appreciated Grabavoy, all have those in them; so too does Thomas McNamara, who hit this stunner against Philadelphia:
It will be incumbent upon the TFC defenders to stay alert throughout the match, as even a momentary lack of focus can prove disastrous.
One final note of caution, New York City tend to score their goals around half-time and at the end of the match – they have three at the end of the first-half, four at the start of the second, and have scored seven in the final fifteen minutes, accounting for fourteen of their fifteen goals scored.
Toronto has cut out the late concessions – allowing just one this season – but have been vulnerable at either side of half-time, allowing three in each fifteen minute period, accounting for six of their sixteen goals against.
Carrying on the interval talk from above, prior to their win over Montreal, New York had conceded first in the previous six matches, all inside the opening half-hour of play – a factor in extending their winless run. In fact, nine of the nineteen goals they have conceded have come in the first thirty minutes.
Toronto has just three goals over that same period this season, but Saturday would be the perfect time to pad that figure – when scoring first, TFC is a perfect four wins from four.
Over the last few months, nearly all of New York City's goals-against can be blamed on one specific deficiency – a lack of cohesion and awareness at the back.
Attacking players can come together relatively quickly, learning each other's games and habits, and when they makes mistakes, they seldom linger long in the memory. At the back however, any missteps are exaggerated, especially when they result in goals, and the ability to know exactly what a fellow defender is thinking or what they will do, comes only with weeks of practice and hours of game-time.
Further complicating matters is that New York is still a side being constructed. Kreis has not rested on what he has, and injury has made several potential starters unavailable. Just this past week two new defenders were recruited to the club, so this is a problem that may well continue.
On the weekend, nobody bothered to mark Lefevre making a back-side run on a deep free-kick from Laurent Ciman, allowing the centre-back a free run to get on the end of the service:
While against Salt Lake that same horrendous lack of awareness allowed Alvaro Saborio to ghost in between a pair of centre-backs to get on the end of a Luke Mulholland ball from the right:
Losing a mark, either from set-pieces or open play, will happen from time to time, but this is not an isolated occurrence with City.
They have been guilty of both being disorganized – as Razvan Cocis' free-header from a free-kick for Chicago proves – and have lacked urgency – both of CJ Sapong's goals (from a corner kick and when pouncing on a loose ball in the area).
Will Bruin's strike for Houston embodies both the poor marking - David Horst was allowed to rise up freely to knock down the corner kick, again at the back-side, and a lack of reaction - as Bruin is allowed to find position and win the ball with a strong finish:
The last three goals New York has conceded have all come from set-pieces.
Toronto does not really make the most of those dead-ball opportunities, but with Jozy Altidore back in the lineup, Sebastian Giovinco providing the service, Michael Bradley looking for goals, Justin Morrow eager to get on the end of things, and Eriq Zavaleta poisted to cement himself as a starter (he is due for a goal, to make his transition from unknown to legend in less than a month); TFC will be working hard to press that frailty to their advantage.
One can easily imagine Altidore making a run in between the centre-backs to get on the end of a Giovinco ball from the left, or Morrow sneaking towards the back-post for a nod on goal.
To further hammer home that point, their weakness can be summarized by one performance – that of Bradley Wright-Phillips in the first New York derby at the start of May.
Not only was Wright-Phillips inexplicably unmarked inside the six-yard box to get on the end of a Lloyd Sam ball in the fourth minute – of all the people to ignore in such a place, but he then strolled up the middle, again unmarked, to tap in the second, despite City having the man advantage after a red card.
That second goal provided a glimpse of another possible way that Toronto could seek to impose some damage on New York – the counter attack.
With City pressing forward the Red Bulls were able to find acres of space behind them. Given this match will be played in Toronto, and presuming both sides have eleven men on the pitch, it is unlikely that New York will commit so full-heartedly forward.
With that in mind, John Stertzer's goal for Salt Lake could prove instructional, as it was not born of New York overextending themselves as their did against the Red Bulls, but of a momentary lapse of concentration and a midfield turnover that caught the defenders attempting to transition from defense to attack.
A few quick changes of possession allowed Stertzer to find a gap down the left-side of the box, getting on the end of a Devon Sandoval flick after Kyle Beckerman had regained the ball and hurried it forward:
Note how in their effort to switch to attack mode, the New York right-back and midfielder – Facey and Ballouchy for those keeping track - both forget about their defensive duties for a brief moment, leaving Stertzer the space to slip in and score.
Should Toronto play with some high pressure of their own and force turnovers out of New York in those positions – they have the players to do so - Giovinco will exploit that space when allowed.
Should be an interesting match.
Points of Interest
This is the first-ever meeting between the two sides. And the first of three meetings, the other two will take place in New York on July 12 and September 16.
New York City is one of the few MLS clubs to not have any former TFC players on their roster; wonder if Kreis knows something about Toronto that others seem to overlook.
The club has been running a very interesting video series called Soccer in the City, that is worth a watch – more clubs should be doing this sort of historic-cultural documentation of the game in their town.
For those unaware of the Frank Lampard, Manchester City, New York controversy, a quick search is worth the time.