New York City FC is well into their four game stretch on the road. With back-to-back wins against Montreal Impact and LA Galaxy, the squad finally has a week off for some well deserved rest and recovery.
The Boys in Blue seem to have found their stride with the arrival of Héber and a change in formation within Doménec Torrent's game plan. Alex Ring even told, MLSsoccer.com's Scott French, "We've found ourselves."
French reported: "NYCFC (4-1-6) have been a contender since their second MLS campaign, finishing second in the East in 2016 and 2017 but falling at the first playoff hurdle. They were third last year and again reached the conference semifinals, but went 4-8-4 down the stretch, including two postseason defeats to Atlanta United.
"In the last of these games, Torrent swapped out a 4-2-3-1 alignment for a 3-4-3 that turned into something akin to a 5-3-1 when the opponent was attacking. They pulled out a 3-3 draw at Minnesota United in the opening match at Allianz Field and have been nearly unstoppable since.
"NYCFC have conceded just one goal in the last 417 minutes, and their road wins in that stretch -- all by 2-0 scorelines -- have come against strong competition: D.C. United (6-3-2), Montreal (6-5-2) and now LA (7-4-1). One more road win, and they'll equal last year's total.
“I take pride in that, keeping the ball out of the back of the net,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “I think for the last four games we've been really, really good, both home and on the road, and we have to have that mentality. And now that we've set that bar, there's another level for us to achieve, and everybody's hungry.”
NYCFC's performance this season took an upward trajectory since Héber has been able to join the Starting XI. The team has gone (4-0-3) since the striker joined the club, according to Elite Sports NY's Onz Chery:
"New York City FC striker Héber Araujo dos Santos is not a Number 9 he’s more like a Letter W."
"New York only scored four goals in four games before Héber joined the team. Now they registered 11 goals in their last seven matches. However, offense isn’t the only reason why NYCFC suddenly changed their season around but also because they improved their defense.
“'Everybody’s better with this player.' Everybody’s better, including the defense. With Héber’s ability to hold the ball up, the team will lose the ball less which means less work for the defenders.
"The last player at NYCFC who was consistently complimented on his ability to make the whole team better was of course Villa. However comparing the two players, Villa is obviously a superstar and Héber a star. Nevertheless, the Brazilian is exactly what New York needed, a season changer."
Héber's arrival not only gave the offense a boost, it also allowed Alex Ring to return to his role as a defensive midfielder where he feels comfortable. Pro Soccer USA's Glenn Crooks reported, "Thanks to Héber, Alex Ring back where he belongs for New York City FC."
The Ringleader told Crooks: “I will play where Dome (head coach Torrent) puts me to play but I think everyone knows my position is in front of the back three, back four whatever you want to call it,” Ring said. “I’m happy with it.”
"In the last four matches, Ring has returned “back there” to holding midfielder, providing vital cover for the group at the back which has been altered during a stretch of five matches without a defeat – the second-longest active run in MLS.
"In regard to the modification from four at the back to a three-back system, Torrent had a simple explanation.
“If you play all the time 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and you are not able to win any game, you need to change, no?” Torrent said. “We have the right players to play in this system.”
"Especially with the acquisition of Brazilian striker, Héber, whose presence has provided a comfort level and more quality chances on the attacking side of the ball.
“That’s one of the biggest differences in the last four games, we’ve played with a true No. 9,” Ring said. “If Maxi (Moralez) has to play there, I have to play higher and players are out of position. We’ll do our best and all the other players will as well. But it’s like me being comfortable playing in my position and I think Maxi’s happy to be back where he can control the game a little more.”
As Crooks said, "Happy captain, happy team."
Not only did the Ringleader speak highly of the team's new striker, he also gave credit to Dome for staying patient with the team and building a scheme that worked for them. From Yahoo Sports - this week's 24 Thoughts, written by Doug McIntyre, featured the City boys. Here's what McIntyre reported:
"The Pigeons got a new boss halfway through last season, when Dome Torrent stepped in upon Patrick Vieira’s departure to French club Nice. Torrent made adjustments to Vieira’s system but they didn’t work; after winning his first three games, Torrent’s NYCFC managed just three dubs over their final 16 matches including playoffs, and were bounced by eventual champ Atlanta in the conference semifinals.
"With a full preseason to implement his tactics this season, improvement was expected even after club legend David Villa departed for Japan. But when NYCFC stumbled out of the gates by going winless through its first five, Torrent, to his credit, ripped up his plans and started over. It was a ballsy move but it worked. The Bronx club has now won three of its last four.
"'Having a new coach arrive midseason is really hard,” Ring said of 2018. “Then we had some injuries, some key players that were out, and things didn’t go our way. And of course the fans and the media feast on it. But I always thought that you have to give him a preseason, you have to give him a chance to build his team the way he wants to, the way Patrick was allowed to.'
"Torrent made the switch to a 3-4-3 formation before the draw at Minnesota United on April 13. 'Tactically, defensively we’re more solid now than we were at the start of the season, which cost us points,' Ring said. NYCFC has six ties on the season, by far the most in MLS. 'With a little bit more luck we’d be standing here maybe on top of the table, because we drew some games that we could’ve won.'
"'It says a lot about his quality as a coach to be able to, not swallow his pride, but to throw out what he had planned beforehand and find a system that works for us,”' team captain Alex Ring told Yahoo Sports."
Coaches shape the game and players to be successful, they play a key role in development at every stage. Which is why NYCFC's new Director of Coaching for the Academy, Liam Manning plays a vital role for the NYCFC youth. The previous West Ham coach recently joined the club, The Independent's Jack Pitt-Brooke had a chance to sit down and talk with Manning himself.
"For Manning, it is a chance to be part of a youth programme that could help to change football in the US. “They have a huge pool of untapped players there,” Manning tells The Independent. “The challenge will be to make sure that they’re playing for NYCFC.
"'At NYCFC this largely stems from Reyna, who recruited Manning. 'He has a vision of where he wants to take the club,' Manning says. 'He has such enthusiasm for the game and a passion for youth development. And with the salary cap there, there is an opportunity to have an impact and develop players.'
"The goal for 33-year-old Manning and academy manager Sam Pugsley - who has a more operational role - is to develop the next generation of elite footballers from the New York area. But Manning’s targets are even higher than that. 'I don’t just want to produce players for the first team,' he says. 'I want to produce players who win things for the first team. For me that’s the biggest challenge.It was always the biggest challenge at West Ham. Can you get a Declan? It’s not just about getting one in the team, it’s about getting one in to improve the team, or play at the highest level. That should be any coach’s aim.'"
Stay tuned for more as we keep you updated on all the news about your Boys in Blue, until then don't forget to buy your tickets for our next home game on June 6 as we celebrate Pride Night the City way!