Tactical Analysis – NYCFC 1:0 New England Revolution

Revs 2
The starting line-ups for each team from their July 8th match at New England

Similar to their match against the New York Red Bulls, NYCFC elects to build out of the back on goal kicks and their opponent chooses to press them high up the pitch.

The Revs shape defensively flipped to a 4-1-3-2 defensively with the midfield 3 under 2 higher players. The 2 higher players flipped between Kamara and Nguyen, Kamara and Bunbury, Kamara and Fagundez. It seemed that the 3 players under Kamara had the option to press the defensive line of NYCFC. The Revs then had 2 players occupy the half spaces to deny vertical passes into Iraola, Pirlo, Lampard, and Villa, any advanced player really.

Revs 1.1
Revs 1-4-2-3-2 shape with Bunbury pushed up with Kamara. Caldwell and Rowe deny vertical passing options while Fagundez is responsible for outside back and Nguyen moves based on the ball while staying close enough to Iraola

The picture below showcases the Revs horizontal compactness; however, they have done well to create access to the ball. Kamara could easily press the opponent and force an action to occur – most likely a bad pass/decision and a turnover. However, the Revs chose not to press the opponent, so it was possible for NYCFC to switch the play to the other side. Although not inherently bad, the Revs then had to quickly transition to the other side of the field to regain their horizontal compactness and access to the ball. The downfall to not pressing when you have access is just this. In the time it takes a team to regain their compactness, NYCFC could advance forward, break lines, etc. If that pass to the left back (Matarrita) was played, that alone could bypass the Revs first 2 lines.

Revs 1.2
The Revs had good horizontal compactness during the game which limited NYCFC’s ability to play vertically on one side

NYCFC was very good again in transitioning into central areas. Against the NY Red Bulls, they chose to reduce space and recover centrally towards goal and keep a very compact team horizontally and vertically. This allowed them to transition against a team that was very spread out and vacant in central areas.

Revs 1.3
NYCFC counter’s by occupying the half spaces

NYCFC is very good at taking advantage of the width and depth created by the Revs on the ball which makes them weak in transition. If you are a team that wants width and depth in attack, you need to be aware that this will reduce your teams ability to counter-press the opponent.

NYCFC uses Lampard as their outlet often as he can come in between lines to receive in transition which forces the Revs center backs to make a decision – do I step after we just lost the ball, or do I recover towards goal? Most defenders in the league choose the safer option to recover towards goal, allowing Lampard to receive and turn in transition in central spaces.

Transitions win and lose you games. It is a moment where you are countering against a disorganized defense (as they were just an organized offense) which leads to:

  • Increased space
  • More passing options (due to closeness of your players from compact defensive shape)
  • More time on the ball (to make decisions)
  • Less pressure from the opponent

NYCFC knows that by occupying half space to half space (exemplified by Villa and Harrison above, notice how they are in half spaces, not wide channels) – by occupying half space to half space, NYCFC maximizes the speed at which they can transition. Playing from wide channel to wide channel would be too slow and allow the opponent to recover.

Half space to half space is enough width to stretch the opponent, while also maximizing the closeness of your players.

Revs 1.4
Another example of NYCFC transition – closeness of their shape allows them ability to spread the defense, but play each other due to their closeness
Revs 1.5
The width created from half space to half space is enough in transition to allow quick switches between attacking players which can force the defenders to move and allow for penetration. Wide channel to wide channel is too much space and allows defenders to recover


NYCFC always elects to play short from goal kicks or when Saunders has possession of the ball. But, their positioning is very poor and they often fail to create superiority when building out of the back as exemplified by the picture below.

Revs 1.6
3v3 when building out of the back, lack of numerical superiority

They could play Saunders and switch to the other side in order to penetrate the opponent, but even when they did, the same problems came up. I think that they should or could drop Pirlo in between the CB’s when building out which would give them a 3v2 against Bunbury and Kamara, the 2 highest pressing players on the Revs. This would allow Iraola and Lampard to drop into half spaces to create an option to penetrate the first line of defense. It would also allow Matarrita and Allen, the NYCFC outside backs to push higher up the pitch and potentially force Bunbury and Fagundez to drop with them.

Revs 3
Dropping Pirlo in would create a 4v2, counting Saunders, which could help create vertical passing options and build out from the back

NYCFC usually plays CB to CB and periodically play a tough ball into Iraola or Pirlo with pressure on their back and they have no option but to play it back to a CB now also under pressure. This caused a lot of NYCFC’s lack of success in building out of the back.

Revs 1.7
An example of NYCFC playing Pirlo to relieve pressure with a guy directly on him. No choice but to play backwards to a CB that Kamara can press

Revs 1.8Revs 1.9Revs 1.10

Revs 1.11
In the above images, we see Nguyen’s poor pressing lead to a vertical pass. Instead of taking away the vertical pass with his cover shadow as he pressed the CB on the ball, Nguyen ran straight at him, did a jump and half turn and ran past the CB. This eliminated his cover shadow and opened a vertical option to Lampard who played a nice up, back, through with Iraola. The last image is the completion of the up, back, through with Lampard receiving into space.

Revs 1.12

Revs 1.13
More examples of NYCFC’s failures in creating superiority to build out of the back

The Revs seemed to be utilizing a space oriented man mark. Where Rowe, Caldwell, Bunbury, Kamara, and Nguyen all protected a specific space around their position and pressed players from NYCFC that moved into these spaces. This is why NYCFC struggled to build out, as their positioning is very stagnant and players make the same runs into the same spaces consistently. Creating overloads is one way to overcome this type of defending, something NYCFC failed to do often.

Revs 1.14
The Revs had Fagundez and Nguyen take away half spaces and passes into Harrison, Lampard, McNamara. But, they also remained close enough to Iraola and Pirlo so that they could press them when they were played so that NYCFC could not penetrate their midfield line
Revs 1.15
The Revs did get broken on occasion and allowed passes into central areas

As the game progressed, NYCFC began to do a better job of building out of the back due to New England’s poor vertical compactness when pressing high up the field. It worked initially because NYCFC players were making poor decisions and bad executions of their decisions. But, as they made better decisions, they were better able to find vertical passes and break the first lines of New England’s defense. Their poor vertical compactness was mainly due to the back 4 of New England being so deep, most likely concerned with the high position of McNamara, Harrison, and Villa. However, McNamara began to drift between lines while Villa ran into depth which allowed him to get on the ball in half spaces and between lines.

This diagonal pass above is very good as it forces the Revs to not only regain their horizontal compactness, but also their vertical.

Revs 1.16
Poor vertical compactness of the Revs as the positioning of the midfield line of the Revs leaves too much space between them and Kamara and the forward line, which allows NYCFC players to receive between lines with the ability to turn and penetrate
Revs 1.17
The front 5 of the Revs pressed very high, but the lack of compactness from their back 4 and Rowe/Caldwell led to vertical passes into the NYCFC advanced players allowing them to receive between lines
Revs 1.18
Poor vertical compactness allows NYCFC to bypass the forward and midfield line of Revs

The 4 images below are an example of Diego Fagundez creating a pressing trap from a wide position.

He starts by leaving both CB’s free and man marks Allen, the right fullback. This means that Brillant, the RCB can not play down the right wing. This makes the opponent very predictable. You know that the RCB now is going to play the LCB, which he does. Fagundez continues his run and takes the RCB out of the game by leaving him in his cover shadow, now 2 players are out of the game.

Revs 1.19Revs 1.20Revs 1.21Revs 1.22

The trap is completed after it gets to the LCB who now has no option to play to his RCB or to his 6 to relieve pressure and is being pressured by Bunbury. His only option is to go back to his keeper or force a pass, which he does.

Overall, the story of this game was NYCFC’s ability to transition quickly and effectively into central areas combined with their propensity to play out from the back. As the Rev’s fatigued, they lost their vertical compactness and energy to press once they created access. This allowed NYCFC to finally play between lines and bypass the lines of the Rev’s press, all despite NYCFC’s inability to create overloads in build up against a space oriented man-marking team.

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