New York City FC hosted second-year club Los Angeles FC to the frighteningly cozy confines of Yankee Stadium. The result was a physical 2-2 draw. LAFC’s Carlos Vela scored a late penalty to secure the point, his second goal of the match. NYCFC had goals from record signing Romanian Alexandru Mitrita and Captain Alexander Ring.
The MLS match provided an interesting tactical battle that was heavily influenced by the size of the pitch. The extremely small playing surface magnified the tactical defensive decisions for LAFC. This tactical analysis will look at LAFC’s defensive tactics and use statistics to show how they dominated in xG without dominating possession of the ball.
LAFC set out in a 4-3-3 formation with Tyler Miller in goal. Danilo Silva, Walker Zimmermann, Eddie Segura, and Jordan Harvey made up the back line. Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, and Latif Blessing made up the midfield trio. Christian Ramirez got the start at center forward flanked by the young Diego Rossi and ex-Arsenal forward Carlos Vela.
NYCFC countered with a 4-1-4-1 formation with Sean Johnson in goal. Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens anchored the center of the defence. Ronald Matarrita and Anton Tinnerhold were the full-backs and James Sands sat in front of the back line. Lexandru Mitrita and Valentin Castellanos were the wide midfielders with Ebenezer Ofori and Alexander Ring in the centre. Maxi Moralez was alone up top.
Yankee Stadium pitch size
NYCFC’s home is Major League Baseball’s Yankee Stadium. The football pitch is wedged into the baseball stadium providing the smallest pitch in the league. The dimensions are a short 101m with a narrow width of 64m. For perspective, QPR’s Loftus Road is known for its small pitch size, and measures 102m by 66m.
The Premier League dictates a pitch size of 105m by 68m unless the stadium is unable to accommodate that size. Yankee Stadium’s pitch is the absolute FIFA minimum. NYCFC’s pitch is considerably shorter and narrower than standard which had a large tactical influence on the match.
LAFC high press
In the first half, LAFC came out high pressing. This was a logical decision based on the tight space. Common sense would dictate that pressing in the smaller area would be of benefit, but the strategy largely backfired. NYCFC’s familiarity with the tight spaces and comfort on the ball negated LAFC’s high press.
Below we see NYCFC’s center back, Chanot, split wide with the ball. LAFC are pressing high, stepping all the way up on the last line. LAFC do not cut off the touchline which allows Chanot to play up the line to right back Tinnerholm.
Tinnerholm has space to turn and dribble up the touchline. He draws the midfield towards him playing a penetrating ball behind the midfield line to checking center forward Moralez. Moralez easily plays Castellanos into the channel.
NYCFC easily passed right through the LAFC high press. With the short field, it took three passes and the ball was in a crossing position. The high press was basically converted into a high chase as NYCFC were comfortable playing in tight spaces.
Against the high pressing LAFC defence, NYCFC had 69% of the possession in the first half. They were largely unbothered by the pressure and deftly pulled the LAFC defence out of shape time and time again.
The tight pitch size contributed to a choppy game with the referee a primary participant. The teams combined to make 31 fouls. NYCFC accounted for 19, with their midfield responsible for over half of those. The LAFC midfield trio of Blessing, Kaye, and Atuesta were fouled a combined 12 times and star forward Vela was fouled three times.
The consistent fouling in the middle third by NYCFC removed the chance for any clean free-flowing play. LAFC were the most fouled team last season, and so far they are near the top of the charts this season. The prevailing strategy was to break up LAFC’s rhythm through fouls. The prevalent fouling strategy combined with the tight pitch meant the game was always going to turn on transition moments.
LAFC medium block
The lack of success pressing high and the vast amount of fouls in midfield caused LAFC to change tactics at half time. The second half saw them move to a medium block and focus on quick transition. Here we see Vela, Adama Diomande, and Rossi setting the line instead of chasing. The sole intention was to jam the midfield.
NYCFC were forced to break down a compact LAFC midfield. This was much more challenging than the porous midfield that NYCFC had faced in the first half.
LAFC’s tactical change allowed numbers around the ball in midfield and quick counter-attacking opportunities. In the second half, LAFC upped their possession from the paltry first-half figure of 31% to 47% in the second half. The strategy of jamming up the midfield with a medium block allowed LAFC to get a better hold of the play.
NYCFC out-possessed LAFC 60% to 40%. Despite only having 40% of the possession, LAFC had 17 shots to NYCFC’s 15. LAFC also led with a large advantage in xG, 2.48 to 0.98.
The decision to press high in the first half backfired greatly. LAFC had little of the play as they were chasing the quick play from NYCFC. The half-time tactical alteration by LAFC to defend in a medium block allowed LAFC to get a handle on the game and tip possession to a more equitable amount.
It isn’t often that a match is so heavily influenced by the stadium that it is played in. LAFC normally boss possession by a 55% to 45% margin according to Wyscout.com. Ex-Swansea manager Bob Bradley clearly made the correct adjustments for LAFC to put his team in position for full points on the road.
Any team coming into Yankee Stadium will be at a large disadvantage by not being familiar with the quirky small size of the pitch and NYCFC’s comfort playing in small spaces. It is an enormous home field advantage that NYCFC exploit masterfully.
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