Looking to shake off the bitter taste of defeat, the New England Revolution will take on New York City FC on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. While Jay Heaps and his staff surely have done their homework, there is little known about NYCFC mainly because of their expansion status.
We all know about their marquee signings of David Villa, Mix Diskerud, and Frank Lampard, but outside of that it's hard to gauge how the Manchester City affiliate will look on the pitch. They've only played in one game - a 1-1 draw with Orlando City at the Citrus Bowl - and don't have a large enough sample size to demonstrate any patterns.
Considering that, let's take a look at what we do know and several components that define NYCFC's tactical nuances on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
1.) The Center Mids: In this past Sunday's match with Orlando, Jason Kreis chose to trot out Andrew Jacobson and Diskerud in the center of his four man midfield. Although some might define them both as holding midfielders, Jacobson tended to stay closer to the back-line, all while Diskerud roamed further upfield and made late supporting runs.
It was Diskerud who nabbed the expansion side's first ever MLS goal, but the duo's role extends far beyond the spots they took up on the field. To put it simply, Jacobson and Diskerud were a two-man filter in the center of the park that ran the show for Kreis' side.
That's their passing chart from this Sunday's game, in which they remarkably completed 89 percent of their passes. Embedded within that impressive pass completion rate is the fact that NYCFC's game entirely ran through Jacobson and Diskerud. They set the tempo, acted as continual outlets, and kept their passes simple. Without their steady presence in the center of the park, New York could have encountered a far uglier result than a 1-1 draw.
2.) Advancing Right Back: NYCFC has a slew of players who have plied their trade in MLS for a while and Josh Williams - a former Columbus Crew S.C. man - is part of that ensemble. He played right back against Orlando and was pretty steady defensively.
Outside of Williams' defensive merits, he played a vital role in New York's attack, especially considering how narrow their four man midfield played. The club's right mid, Medhi Ballouchy, tuck inside and left plenty of room for Williams to advance up the flank.
That is Williams' heat map from the game against Orlando. He spent a lot more time upfield than in his defensive third and ended up serving in three of NYCFC's four crosses. None of them resulted in goals, but Williams is a subtly vital cog in his team's attack.
3.) The Back Four: NYCFC's back-four on Sunday combined for tons of MLS experience. Jason Hernandez, Chris Wingert, Jeb Brovsky, and Williams are veterans of the league who all showed admirably against Orlando. After all, it took a deflected Kaka free-kick to turn three points into one.
Part of what made them so successful was the starting position they took up. None of those four guys have a ton of pace, so they sat relatively deep and absorbed pressure from Orlando's dynamic attack.
That's a visual representation of every single one of the back-four's clearances from the Orlando match (blue = headed, green = foot) and there's a whopping 25 of them. Part of that statistic can be attributed to last-ditch defending, but mainly speaks volumes to the defensive discipline of a deep and veteran back-line. Hernandez, Wingert, Brovsky, and Williams won't "out-soccer" anybody, but they have the ability to keep the other team away from the goal long enough to get points.
4. Mr Spain: David Villa had a relatively quiet game against Orlando, but there is no denying that he is a special player who has the keys to NYCFC's attack. His accolades speak for themselves and he has a gracefully calm presence on the ball that few other MLS players have. Plus, he's not a half bad finisher.
That's from an NYCFC preseason game and it wasn't the hardest of goals, but finishing is one of the hardest parts of the game. He dispels any rushes of blood, settles a bouncing ball, and slams home in a composed manner. Villa probably won't (and hopefully won't) get that easy of a chance against New England, but if he does, beware, Revs fans.
5.) The X-Factor: In the 62nd minute of NYCFC's match against Orlando, Kreis decided to make the club's first ever MLS substitution. To the surprise of many, it was Khiry Shelton's number that appeared on the board. As the game wore on the rookie showed no signs of nerves and hardly looked like a recent graduate of Oregon State.
Shelton brought a great deal of energy to the game and infused NYCFC with what the club was missing the most: pace. He plays without fear, but not in a reckless way. The kid can flat out play.
That's him setting up Adam Nemec for a golden opportunity this past Sunday. He also completed every single one of his passes and could be an x-factor against the Revs on Sunday.