This Is Cosmos Country: Patrick Vieira comes in for Jason Kreis. What has he brought to the squad and what has he changed tactically? It seems like NYCFC has favored the 4-3-3 this season. What can Cosmos fan expect from them on the field?
Blue City Radio: Vieira has been credited with creating more of a team culture. As an example, during the preseason the team ate three meals a day together. A more recent development is the focus that Vieira has on the mental aspect of the game. This isn’t to say that Kreis ignored it, but Vieira has done well to articulate it and address it in press conferences. Vieira has tested a few formations, most notably trying a 3-2-2-3 or W-M formation for two early home games, but has settled in on the 4-3-3 as the standard. I fully expect to see that formation on Wednesday for the Open Cup.
TICC: We noticed that NYCFC goes with Ireola or Bravo in the holding midfield spot and Pirlo is more advanced. How has this played out? Pirlo is one of the masters of the deep lying role because of his ball control and passing ability. Has the lineup impacted Pirlo’s game?
BCR: Patrick Vieira said early in the season that he likes Andrea in the defensive midfielder position (#6) and that he feels that Pirlo has the ability to play there as the lone holding midfielder in a 4-3-3. There were two issues with that. First, Pirlo has shown, at times, a weakness defensively. Second, NYCFC was struggling with passing vision from the attacking midfielders, Tommy McNamara and Mix Diskerud at the time. Vieira moved McNamara to forward and that allowed Pirlo to play closer to Villa and provide more through ball service. Bravo has done well in the 6 role, but is not a distributor. Mikey Lopez did well there also, but with the same passing deficiency. Iraola has moved into that slot the last two games and played the best. His vision and comfort on the ball has made NYCFC more calm in their attack.
TICC: What is the latest on NYCFC on the injury front?
BCR: Bravo is the only regular starter that is out. He pulled a muscle in training about two weeks ago and should miss the Open Cup game. Frank Lampard is coming back from injury and has played limited minutes in his return. Jack Harrison, the first overall draft pick in the 2016 Superdraft, returned from injury in the Red Bull game and played 74′ in the last MLS match notching his first goal of his career. Vieira has shown to be very cautious with Harrison, not even dressing him for the game after Red Bull for preventative reasons.
TICC: NYCFC are middle of the pack in goals scored but, right now, have given up the most goals in MLS. Can you touch on the defensive side and any issues you might have and how do you expect NYCFC to go against the deep and talented Cosmos midfield?
BCR: Most goals against is somewhat of an anomaly. When the Red Bulls score 7 in one game it will throw off the statistic a little. That being said, the team has shown two glaring weaknesses, both of which can be accredited to on the field leadership; ability to close out games and set-piece defending. I think NYCFC will do well against the Cosmos midfield. I think both teams play a specific style of play and protect the ball really well. The challenge for NYCFC will be playing for the full 94 minutes (a Vieira phrase) and not giving up free kicks in dangerous areas and at ends of the halves.
TICC: NYCFC is currently sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference, however, they are 3-2-1 on the road and only 1-3-5 at home. Why is NYCFC more successful on the road? Does the width at Yankee Stadium have anything to do with that?
BCR: The team will say 100% it’s not about the field at Yankee Stadium. Following the last game, they felt snake bitten. The fact is no one can point to a specific factor other than what Vieira says is the mental part of the game. In a larger field, players can catch their rest, mentally and physically. On the smaller field of Yankee stadium, there are no plays off.
TICC: This is a home game for NYCFC but it is being played at a different ground. How will this impact the way NYCFC plays the game?
BCR: I think the biggest factor will be in player selection. I’m not sure if that will be because of how important Vieira views the game or the fact that the game will be played on turf. The only fairly sure change I can see is that Eirik Johansen should get the start in goal. Besides that I would say that NYCFC has proven that many of the players have demonstrated a clear understanding of what their responsibilities are in various roles. So I expect the style of play to be the same regardless of the lineup.
TICC: You are in the thick of a playoff race and play top of the table Philadelphia the Sunday following; is CFG taking this Cup game seriously or is the main focus making the playoffs in MLS?
BCR: This is the big question. I have been told from team representatives that they expect Vieira to treat this like a playoff game and take it extremely serous. That being said, I can’t tell if that was based on comments from the coach or just wishful thinking. While I would hope that NYCFC would field their strongest side, I do not expect any of their three DP’s to play. I can see Villa being on the bench, but not sure about the other two. I think CFG sees a chance to play in CONCACAF Champions League as a great opportunity and Open Cup as an easier path to that chance, but I also think they view the team at Yankee Stadium as their first priority.