There have been different formations and different personnel, but the constant for New York City FC has been an improvement defensively over the last three matches.
That includes the first clean sheet of the season in a 0-0 draw with the Chicago Fire Sunday night. It was in stark contrast to the 2016 opener, a wild 4-3 victory in Chicago on March 6.
“I think it’s really encouraging,” centerback Jason Hernandez said of the shutout. “We put a lot of work in. Other than the first game I think we’ve been pretty good defensively. We’ve been a bit unlucky on a couple of deflection goals and weird, kind of fluky goals. … We think strongly about our defense that we can limit chances and we’re definitely going to need that this weekend. Hopefully it can continue.”
Hernandez partnered with Frederic Brillant in a four-man backline Sunday, but has also been in the middle of a three-man unit in previous games.
“There’s a lot of variables that go into it, especially with all the good opponents we’ve faced where we’ve switched formations and personnel,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s a testament to all the work we’ve put in during preseason and all the time the guys put in so everyone knows their role.”
NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira has also utilized the versatility of his defensive players in the first five games. Andoni Iraola was signed as a fullback, but has played more centrally lately.
“Obviously in the last two or three games, we conceded only I think twice. We’ve improved defensively, but I always prefer a win,” Iraola said. “I prefer the first game, even if we concede three goals. This is a collective thing. I think in the offensive side we have very good players and I am sure we are going to score goals also.”
Improved defending for Vieira, though, goes behind the defensive third.
“I believe the way we want to play, we have to be really compact, we have to be really tight, not leaving space between the lines because when you leave space between the lines you become a bit vulnerable and you give more chances to the opposition to really hurt you,” Vieira said. “We have to be a bit more tight with Mix [Diskerud] and Tommy [McNamara] and it is one of the aspects of the game we need to improve.”