MLS is Back: Talking tournament tactics – Eastern Conference

MLS, Toronto FC, Alejandro Pozuelo (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
MLS, Toronto FC, Alejandro Pozuelo (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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MLS, New England Revolution, Adam Buksa
MLS, New England Revolution, Adam Buksa (Photo by Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

Nashville SC

Expected formation: Nashville SC played in a 4-2-3-1 in both of their first two matches before the league shut down. That formation was while the team possessed the ball, but without the ball, the shape morphed into a flat 4-4-2.

Team style: Through two games, Gary Smith’s team displayed a very conservative style. For most teams with a back four in modern soccer, the full-backs push high up the field when attacking. Nashville’s full-backs, Daniel Lovitz and Eric Miller, hardly pushed forward to assist in the attack, often leaving just four or five players to create chances.

Potential success/failure: Because Nashville seem so inherently conservative, they will struggle to score goals. Their only goal in March came from a set-piece when Walker Zimmerman, a center-back, capitalized on a scrum in front of goal. Teams obviously cannot win without scoring. Set-pieces will be especially important. Since this is an expansion side, team chemistry is a potential problem, too, meaning Nashville’s chances at advancing into the knockout stages are slim.

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New England Revolution

Expected formation: Bruce Arena lined his New England Revolution up in a 4-2-3-1 in both their games earlier this year. It is likely the Revolution will use that formation throughout the tournament. Both full-backs tend to get forward when New England possess the ball and central midfielder Diego Fagundez likes to join the attack as well.

Team style: Arena and the Revolution don’t quite have a defined style. They just go out and do what they can to win. If that means possessing the ball, they will do. If it’s similar to March when the team was out-possessed in both matches, they will do that too. New England tend to take what the other team gives them, so expect a lot of flexibility from the Revs in Orlando.

Potential success/failure: Because of their flexibility, New England have an excellent shot at a deep, extended tournament run. They can sit and counter or press and possess. They have solid attacking talent with the likes of Carles Gil, Adam Buksa, and Gustavo Bou. Gil and Bou proved their talent with plenty of goals and assists in 2019, while Buksa, who joined during the offseason, already scored in the opening game against Chicago. The team’s style and formation gives those guys free rein, but they must capitalize on their chances or New England will exit early.

New York City FC

Expected formation: New York City FC toggled between a 4-5-1 and 4-1-4-1 in five matches before the pandemic struck. Both formations can function in a similar fashion with either James Sands or Alexander Ring playing as the central defensive midfielder.

Team style: From a style perspective, NYCFC are a bit of a mystery under new coach Ronny Deila. In their first CCL round, they dominated possession, but against Tigres in the second round, they only held the ball 35% of the game in a 1-0 loss. Their play against Columbus and Toronto adds to the mystery. An early red card against Columbus meant little possession (38%), but against Toronto, they were almost even with just 52% of the ball. There currently isn’t a clear identifiable team style.

Potential success/failure: The Pigeons looked good against Costa Rican side San Carlos in the opening CCL round. Scoring was not an issue as New York advanced 6-3 on aggregate. In league play and the second round of the CCL, however, they failed to score, though not for want of trying as they created a vast number of openings and opportunities. Balancing both MLS and the CCL may have been a factor in those early games, but they will need to be more clinical in Orlando. With Heber as the lone striker, NYCFC should be able to find goals and do well in the tournament. But if Heber doesn’t get the support he needs, New York will struggle.