Despite the reference in the title there are no Infinity War spoilers in this article.
NEW YORK CITY, NY – After a disappointing 0-3 loss in Portland, New York City FC returns home to face off against the last remaining unbeaten squad in MLS, FC Dallas. The Hoops are coming off a commanding 2-0 win over Philadelphia last week and an impressive 1-0 victory over New England in Foxborough the week before, with coach Oscar Pareja experimenting with a new look for his team seemingly every week. Their unpredictability and depth has made Dallas difficult to plan for, and thus difficult to defeat. Patrick Vieira’s men will certainly be their toughest challenge of 2018 so far.
No More of the Same
As we saw last week, maintaining the lion’s share of possession doesn’t mean much if you can’t do anything with it. FC Dallas has had matches both vastly ahead in possession (62.9% in a 1-1 draw at Colorado) and deep behind (36.7% in their 1-0 win in New England). With Vieira rotating his squad last week, it is likely we’ll see Yangel Herrera and Jesus Medina back in their normal starting roles helping to improve the translation of the ball from the back line into threatening positions.
Portland provided a blueprint for dealing with NYCFC’s possession-centered philosophy, and Pareja will look to mimic that plan as much as possible. The midfield battle will be the key factor in who comes away victorious, and it should be an interesting one to watch.
Same Faces, New Look
Kellyn Acosta is listed as “Questionable” for the match on Sunday after having sat out the entire season with a sports hernia repair, but his return – possibly as a substitute – is much anticipated among some Dallas faithful. The man giving the rest of Dallas pause has been 2017 draftee Jacori Hayes, who has been phenomenal in the last few weeks as a box-to-box midfielder. A budding star, the 22-year-old Hayes adds to the already-potent midfield of Michael Barrios (who’s already tallied a goal against NYCFC), Victor Ulloa, and one of either Rafael Mosquera or Roland Lamah.
Lamah – the 30-year-old Ivorian winger brought in after the departure of Fabian Castillo in 2016 – already has 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 appearances. He has been Dallas’ consensus best player so far this season.
Also possibly making a return to active duty would be goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who has been out for an extended period with back-to-back injuries after starting for the club in their Concacaf Champions League matches against Tauro back in February. He has yet to log any 2018 minutes.
The key to all of this will be New York’s ability to pick their spots. If the Pigeons can’t get on the board early, they cannot fall into the trap of trying to press too hard to make something happen. They cannot allow the frustration of the Portland match to carry over. If NYCFC get desperate, the Dallas attack will make them pay for it. David Villa – who has been rusty all season thanks to injury – can take advantage of the “still-getting-used-to-you” centerback pairing of Matt Hedges and newcomer Reto Ziegler. Ziegler is prone to individual mistakes. He’s a been poor one-on-one defender, a below average distributor, and has made some questionable decisions in high-leverage situations.
With the individual skill available to NYCFC up front, they can take advantage by creating chaos in the box and keeping the ball on the ground. The interplay of Maxi Moralez, Medina and Villa will be crucial if City is to get any kind of attack going.
Patrick Vieira needs his midfield to be the assertive, aggressive force they’ve shown they can be. Herrera, along with Alexander Ring (1 yellow away from an accumulation suspension) and Moralez need to establish a high line of possession early on and pin Dallas back in their own end. If possession is maintained too far back, NYCFC will have a hard time creating chances against a still-stout Dallas defense that is planning on keeping six men back at all times.
New York City FC (4-3-3): Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Herrera, Ring, Moralez; Berget, Villa, Medina
FC Dallas (4-4-2): Maurer; Nedyalkov, Ziegler, Hedges, Cannon; Lamah, Ulloa, Hayes, Barrios; Colman, Urruti