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Revolution v. NYCFC: Four thoughts

How did the high press work against NYCFC?

MLS: New York City FC at New England Revolution Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the New England Revolution tied New York City FC 2-2. Here are four thoughts on the game.

1. The High Press

The first half was controlled, almost dominated, by the Revs, as they got at least a half dozen excellent scoring chances, while NYCFC got only two. This happened (unusually) in spite of the the Revs’ having only 25% of ball possession – clearly because Brad Friedel chose to use the high press throughout the half, occasionally including up to 7 men. At the same time, NYCFC, a team that takes pride in their ability to play ball possession soccer, kept insisting on taking the ball out of their defensive half using short passes. This facilitated several steals by the Revs, resulting in their 11th-minute goal and several of the other scoring chances mentioned above. A halftime lead of two would have been well-deserved. Mark this half down as good tactics by Friedel and a very questionable response by NYCFC.

I have seen skillful, ball-possession teams stay with their style of play no matter what the circumstances, anticipating that sooner or later their method will pay off, especially where they have a player-for-player advantage. For NYCFC this payoff did occur in the second half when they scored two goals to tie the game. But it didn’t deliver a win, nor did their getting these goals negate the fact that they were darned lucky to end the first half down by only one goal.

Even teams that stubbornly stick to a possession-style game need to respond when their opposition is hot to trot, whether through a dynamic high press (as was the case in this game with the Revs) or through especially threatening counter-attacks. New York’s stolid insistence on the backpass to the keeper made them seem almost more concerned with their ball possession statistic than with defending their own goal. I counted 38 passes to the keeper in the first half, 27 more in the second. Without question, this was a habit they had trouble breaking out of. It helped the team occasionally, but it also led to more than a few excellent Rev scoring chances. Perhaps even more tellingly, New York’s problems arose from the monotony of the keeper’s response to these backpasses.

2. Goal-Kicking, Done Properly

Another reason for NYCFC’s invariable reliance on building the offense from the back could have been Sean Johnson’s problem with goal kicking, a problem shared by Matt Turner for the Revs and Philly’s Andre Blake. All three keepers kick the ball only ‘just far enough’ – about 5 to 10 yards past the midfield line – to satisfy their respective coaching staffs. This weakness, and it is a weakness, may have caused NYCFC instinctively to stay with the possession game as the preferred way to get the ball up the field.

In practically all ball sports – golf, tennis, baseball, and basketball are prime examples— the proper follow-through, respectively, on the drive, the forehand or backhand, the swing, and the foul shot are critical for success. The same is true for the goal kick, and the quality of the follow-through is the telltale sign about whether or not aa keeper’s goal kicking is any good. The three keepers mentioned above don’t get nowhere near the distance they should get on their kicks because they all employ a circular leg swing ending in a much too short follow-through. If they learned to strike the ball with the instep, to follow through with the kicking foot thigh-high in the intended direction of the ball, and with the foot locked in the plantar position, they could add about 25 yards or more to their kick, the ball landing at least halfway between the center circle and the opposing penalty area.

This kicking method gets the hip joint involved in the kick – important, because it’s the hip that supplies the power and thereby the distance in the kick.

The forward hop off the placement foot at the end of the swing, often called the “magic hop follow-through,” adds a lot of control to the leg swing and increases accuracy and distance.

The keepers mentioned above are big, strong, athletic guys who work out daily. If they learned to kick properly they would add an important offensive weapon to their quivers, and in the course of a long season such a weapon could easily be a game changer.

3. Possession Soccer

The Revs have to do something about their possession game. The main source of any team’s possession play most often is the midfield. The Rev trio of Zahibo, Caldwell, and Fagundez (who did make some excellent passes in the offensive third) are no match for the NYCFC trio of Herrera, Ofori, and Moralez. The Revs struggled to make four passes in a row. I only saw them do five once, in the 57th minute, and this sequence included a throw-in.

This problem could be solved with the addition of more skillful midfielders. If the Revs are not ready to fund a midfield generalissimo (and in this regard I have to restrain myself from continually lamenting the loss of Jermaine Jones, which was a major setback for the Revs), then they might be able to offset this lack through players like NYCFC’s Ebenezer Ofori. His passing and overall play was very impressive – most impressive when, in the first half, after coughing up a ball at midfield, he ran about 50 yards to the penalty area to prevent Fagundez from scoring what was practically a sure goal. Not a bad effort at all.

4. The Goals

About the two NYCFC goals. There is a fundamental defensive principle that the defender should stay with the cutter on a give-and-go play. In the case of the first NYCFC goal, Gabriel Somi should have covered the overlapping Abdul-Salaam. Because Somi did not do this, he (Salaam) was put into an ideal position to cross the ball. It also appeared that Wilfried Zahibo could have made a better effort to cover the wide-open Tajouri-Shradi in the penalty area.

The pair of Jalil Anibaba and Andrew Farrell displayed careless marking when Tajouri-Shradi scored his second goal. But, in any case, Tajouri-Shradi’s quickness was hard to deal with.

Alexander Callens did a poor job when he turned his back on Diego Fagundez on the first Rev goal. On the second Rev goal, if he had been able to contain Agudelo goal, he would have made an excellent play. As it was, he was slightly out of position and couldn’t cope with Agudelo’s size and strength. Was Callens pushed? Hard to see on TV.