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MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC – tactical analysis

New York City FC were recently able to get to the top of the table at MLS Eastern Conference with the five games win streak which ended now against Toronto FC with a 1-1 draw. The home side grabbed the lead quite early with a fantastic free-kick goal by Alexandru Mitriță. However, Toronto FC managed to equalise not much before the break. 

This tactical analysis will take a look at the main tactical patterns of the teams with the aim to analyse the tactics that New York City FC and Toronto FC applied for this game.  


The guests formed a 4-2-3-1 shape with two personnel changes in the starting lineup. Firstly, Greg Vanney replaced Laurent Ciman in the middle of the defensive four with Chris Mavinga. Secondly, Instead of Patrick Mullins, Jozy Altidore returned to the team after missed the games against New England and Cincinnati. Furthermore, on the wings, Nicolas Benezet employed on the left and Erickson Gallardo on the right, however, they could switch sides.

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics

Meanwhile, at New York City FC the biggest question was how they fill the absence of the important players like Maximiliano Moralez (most assists) or Héber Araujo dos Santos who has the most goals (14) in the team in this season. Tony Rocha played instead of Moralez and Valentín Castellanos replaced Héber as he did the previous game against New England.
Another change was in the formation. Domènec Torrent opted for a 4-1-4-1 shape according to Whoscored, but it was rather a 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 in possession and 5-4-1 in defence.

Which means, Ring this time did not drop only for the possession, he stayed between the centre-backs out of possession, as the image shows below.

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics
New York City FC’s back five as Ring dropped between the centre-backs.

Here again, Ring occupied in the last line. With the extra man in the defensive line, it created better coverage, especially against Altidore. Also, it allowed the defenders to step out to press and still remain two players inside the line who pay attention to Altidore. In the image below, Ibeagha was able to move out to press the ball-carrier without risking too much.

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics

New York City FC’s attacking setup

Despite Toronto pinned back the home side to their half in the first minutes, Torrent’s men were able to dominate the game with the ball, for example, they had a 59% possession rate in the first half. Which was not a surprise considering that NYCFC has relatively high possession rate, in this season they managed to keep the ball 56% of the time.

On that note, let’s discuss NYCFC’s possession phase in this section of the analysis. Torrent’s system is based on two things – high full-backs and situational back three. Of course, these two connected in some ways, since if you send the full-back high areas then you need a cover at the back and still need a good pass game to get there. To establish this, Ring had the duty to drop back between the centre-backs which is quite a frequent pattern in their play. Having said that, it was most evident in the first half, since after the equaliser, Ring stepped a bit higher up in the second half.

In general, there are two reasons for that dropping movement which create a situational back three. Firstly, it could allow more freedom to the centre-backs to drive forward on the ball. Since with the deepest midfielder, they will still have enough coverage at the back. Secondly, it could happen for better ball circulation. Due to the fact that Ben Sweat and Sebastien Ibeagha did not push forward, Ring dropped for the better passing game.

Moreover, the full-backs push high up and maintained a wide position, therefore, the wingers could occupy narrow. With this manner, they created a 3-4-3-ish structure as the image below shows. 

Rocha and Parks remained in the midfield to offer central options, although due to Toronto’s narrow positioning, it was difficult to do it. NYCFC often looked to pass out wide to the full-backs. As you see, Toronto formed a 4-4-2 shape with Alejandro Pozuelo remained high, right next to Altidore. They maintained close proximity to each other prevent the central passes (add more cover to the centre). With this setup, it allowed the centre-midfielders to move out to press Rocha who received the pass. 

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics
An instance from the third minutes. Marco Delgado push out to press Rocha which force the ball and then wide to the right-back.

Due to the really wide positioning of the full-backs (hugging the touchline), Ronald Matarrita and Anton Tinnerholm were always able to offer pass option. However, in the instance above, the winger, Benezet – who stayed narrow to protect the half-space – moved out quickly and challenged for the ball. It was more ideal to utilise a midfield runs when they could drag the opposite full-back out of position with this pass. Thus for example, when Auro stepped out to press Tinnerholm, the ball-sided winger, Jesús Medina run diagonally to fill the vacated space.

Toronto FC’s directness 

The guests’ head coach, Greg Vanney’s tactics rely on speed attacks and the utilising the abilities of Altidore in the penalty box. Their style of play intense pressing and fast counter-attacks to hurt the opponent on the break. They were quick in transition from defence to attack.

In here, Auro stole the ball then immediately swarmed by the nearby NYCFC players but this time, they could not prevent the pass, Auro managed to launch a pass wide where Benezet received it and initiated the counter-attack.

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics
Am example of Toronto’s counter-attack.

In the instance below, you may see another occasion where Benezet pushed forward on the ball. Also, note the detail how Toronto FC tried to stretch the opposition defence as they have players in all the zones throughout the whole width of the pitch which makes the defending team’s task even harder. It was a common pattern that the front four players participated in the counter-attacks, namely, Altidore, Pozuelo, Benezet and Gallardo.

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics
A counter-attacking scenario from Toronto FC.

Another recurring pattern in Toronto’s play was the direct passing in the final third. In this scenario, the Pozuelo played the ball from the right wing to the box where Altidore arrived. The ball was slightly faster than the striker but this direct play was highly effective and Altidore is pretty good in finishing, he already scored ten goals in this season.

MLS 2019: New York City FC vs Toronto FC - tactical analysis tactics
Direct play from Toronto to play the ball into the penalty box.



New York City FC still leading the MLS Eastern Conference but Philadelphia only three points apart from them. Nevertheless, they among the three teams who already clinched a spot in the playoffs and previously they managed to win 11 out of 15 games with an average 2,3 scored goals and only conceding 1,3 goals per game. Therefore, Torrent’s men will be a strong opponent in the MLS playoffs. 

Meanwhile, Toronto FC showed value in this game to make a comeback after the early conceded goal and not getting more. However, they are still in a tough situation in the MLS season. Although they are currently fourth at East, they still need to focus and deliver those important points due to fact DC United has the same amount of points. Also, there are teams like New York Red Bull who played one game less but only points apart from Toronto. Or New England in three points behind but played one less match.

Artwork by @chapulana

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