New York City FC begin their 2021 MLS campaign with a trip to Audi Field to face D.C. United.

Here’s the Keys to the Match, presented by Tri-State Ford…

Fast Starters

It’s fair to say NYCFC’s preseason campaign returned a good set of results, with only one defeat in five outings. One of the interesting trends of preseason was the team’s fast start in games. They often flew out of the blocks, and that seemed to catch opponents off-guard.

The Boys in Blue scored three times inside the opening 10 minutes during preseason - against Chicago Fire, Orlando City and the Columbus Crew SC - and that intensity in the opening stages has clearly caught opponents on the hop. Let’s hope Deila’s boys can repeat the trick when it matters on Saturday night in the Capital.

Beat the Press

The offseason has represented a big shift for D.C. United. Ben Olsen served as the club’s head coach for 10 years, and after stepping down in October the club have appointed Hernan Losada in his place.

The Argentine coach is known to prefer a high-pressing system that places a strong emphasis on verticality (transitioning from defense to attack quickly in only a few passes). If that sounds familiar it is because it shares similarities with the approach preferred by Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa - someone Losada is said to admire greatly - even if he does not mirror his style exactly. We still don’t know exactly what Losada’s intentions are with D.C. United.

In Belgium, Losada preferred a 3-5-2 formation, and would encourage width through his wing-backs. His team were also a threat on the counter-attack after winning the ball in midfield, and in general. looked to get bodies forward as quickly as possible.

Ronny Deila is not averse to the idea of pressing to create chances - as evidenced during our final friendly against Hartford Athletic. Both goals came as a consequence of winning the ball back in the final third before initiating quick passing routes to goal.

That could be a route for NYCFC to cause D.C. problems, while the other main challenge in possession will be playing through United’s attempts to press them when they turn over the ball.

Winning the Midfield

NYCFC are blessed with a strong complement of midfielders including new signing Alfredo Morales.

The emerging partnership between Keaton Parks and James Sands provides a strong balance to the NYCFC engine room, with Sands revealing that their partnership thrives on the fact both men excel at aspects of the game the other does not.

The foundation for a good time rests in the middle of the field, and that will be vitally important here. If Parks and Sands can provide a combination of protection to the back line and supply for the attack then NYCFC will have a great chance of kicking their campaign off with a win.

Watch New York City FC kick off their 2021 season away at D.C. United from Audi Field this coming Saturday, April 17 at 8:00PM ET on the YES Network.

Keys to the Match | The First Step - NYCFC Home Opener