Know Your Enemy: Union shift focus to NYCFC match

Here’s the thing about New York City FC: Since the Union dispatched them 2-0 back on August 18, NYCFC and Orlando City SC have the same number of wins. One.

Here’s the other thing: NYCFC still has an extremely talented roster, and their second most important player is finally returning to the fold.

No, not Maxi Moralez, the superb creative force at the heart of New York City’s midfield. After David Villa the most important player on the NYCFC roster is Yangel Herrera, and this season is proof. Since Herrera went down on May 25, the only clubs NYCFC has beaten are: Orlando City, Toronto FC, Montreal, Columbus, and New York Red Bulls, with the latter a smash-n-grab 1-0 win in Chris Armas’ first match in charge of the Jersey-based club.

Four of those wins came in a whirlwind July run in which NYC looked like the best team in the league, winning by a combined score of 8-0. Things have not gone well in the months that have followed.

Herrera combines athleticism, physicality, and defensive awareness at the base of the NYC midfield, but the most important thing he does is allow Alex Ring and Maxi Moralez more freedom to roam around the pitch building combinations and creating attacks.

Here is Herrera’s pass map in 18 minutes against DC United.

Notice that almost everything is played forward from deep, and the slick midfielder added four recoveries, a tackle, and an interception as well.

So to know NYC, you have to know that they will be a different beast if Herrera is able to start next Sunday.

Other issues

When DC put NYC to the sword last weekend, the visitors were missing Moralez and striker/winger Jo Inge Berget. Head coach Dome Torrent hasn’t provided much information about the status of his two attackers, but without Moralez NYC is far less dynamic in attack. If Herrera returns, Torrent can push Ring higher in midfield, which can allow NYC to progress the ball on the dribble more easily.

But the issue with NYC is less about their attack than the defense. Incredibly, they have only been shut out once while winning only two matches since late July. Unlike under Patrick Viera, NYC cannot stop teams from building attacks and passing through midfield. This was seen most clearly against Minnesota, but the ease with which DC was able to move the ball back to front was simply the same problem in another form.

How good are they

New York City and Columbus were the third and fourth best teams in the Eastern Conference by a country mile for much of the first half of the MLS season. That potential is still in the City Group owned franchise, but tapping into it remains difficult for Torrent. In David Villa and Moralez, NYC still has game changers up top, and Villa looks like he’s finally back in form after a slow start in his return from injury. Villa, a volume shooter on the level of Giovinco at his best, didn’t take more than four shots in his first four matches back from injury. In his last five starts, he has 8, 10, 1, 6, and 7. The Union will need to have eyes on the all-world Spaniard throughout.

Philly and NYCFC face off on Sunday, October 28 in Yankee Stadium at 4:30PM ET.

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