How did DC United almost beat NYCFC with just 33 percent possession?

After beating defending champions Atlanta last week, DC United travelled to the Big Apple to take on NYCFC. New York City FC tied Orlando in the first week of the MLS and were looking to register their first win of the season at home. The game ended in a goalless draw thanks to some incredible shot stopping from Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid, but this tactical analysis will focus on DC’s high defending and build up play.

The Teams

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - tactical analysis - statistics

New York City FC started the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sean Johnson in net. The defensive line of Sweat, Callens, Chanot and Tinnerholm remained unchanged from their trip to Orlando. Mitrita, Sands, Ring and Moralez remained in the starting XI, however, Ofori and Lewis made way for Medina and Castellanos. Moralez, who started as a lone striker against Orlando sat deeper against DC United, with Castellanos starting up top.

DC United lined up with an unchanged starting XI from their win against Atlanta. While the Black and Reds reverted to a 4-2-3-1 at times, they mainly held to a 4-2-2 throughout the game. Acosta, Rodriguez and Arriola would accompany Wayne Rooney as a second attacker, especially when pressing NYCFC’s defenders.

DC United’s High Defending

Despite holding 66 per cent possession during the match, NYCFC struggled to break down DC United throughout the game’s 90 minutes. Right from the get-go, DC pressed NYCFC high up the park, resulting in turnovers and misplaced passes. Wayne Rooney, with one of the midfielders, pressed the NYCFC defenders. When James Sands dropped deep to receive the ball, Rooney and his partner would cut out any passes to the young central midfielder.

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Rooney and Acosta press high up the field preventing passes to the deep laying James Sands.

DC created one of the best chances of the match from pressing NYCFC high up the field. In the 23rd minute, DC’s high pressing nearly led to a goal. The chance came after Arriola pressed NYCFC’s Ben Sweat. Sweat, with no forward options, passed the ball back to Alexander Callens who had no time to clear the ball as Acosta closed him down.

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
As Arriola closes down the man with the ball, Acosta anticipates the backward pass.

 

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
After Acosta forces a turnover, Arriola finds himself 1v1 with the keeper after a Wayne Rooney pass.

The chance was eventually saved by Sean Johnson but the highlighted a weakness in NYCFC’s build up play. DC’s high pressure was not constant and only came at select moments of the game. In the following scenario, Acosta presses NYCFC’s goalkeeper with little support.

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics

After a pass back to Sean Johnson, Acosta sees an opportunity to close down the goalkeeper. Wayne Rooney, on the right-hand side of the picture, doesn’t get close enough to Callens. Rooney also fails to maintain a tightness to Acosta, allowing for an easy pass to the midfield.

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics

Johnson finds an unmarked James Sands in the midfield after the DC’s midfielders failed to press with Acosta. We can see from Acosta’s body language in the image above that he is frustrated with the lack of support from his teammates. When the team pressed together it resulted in promising chance creation, but when done half-heartedly, resulted in exposure in the midfield.

DC United right side chance creation

Despite registering only seven shots to NYC’s 21, DC United had some of the best chances of the game. Of the three shots, only three were on target. All three of these shots came from open play down the right-hand side of the field.

Ben Olsen‘s men overloaded the right-hand side of the field when in possession, forcing space in the middle of the park. This tactic almost resulted in a goal on the 10th-minute mark after DC forced a turnover deep into NYCFC’s half when pressing high.

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Arriola is fed down the right-hand side of the field. Rooney is tucked in forcing separation from NYC’s centrebacks.

 

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Arriola finds Rooney inside the box with plenty of space.

 

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Rooney finds Arriola’s overlapping run into the box as Acosta holds his run on the top of the box.

 

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Arriola finds Acosta on the top of the box who forces a brilliant save from Sean Johnson.

Arguably the best chance of the match came from DC overloading the space and disorganizing the NYCFC defenders. Acosta played a vital role in the chance by holding his position and allowing his teammates to clear space for him through their link-up play down the right-hand side. Once space was created he had time to put Sean Johnson under pressure. Acosta’s spacial awareness was vital to DC’s best chances.

Ulises Segura

In the 63rd minute, Ulises Segura replaced Lucas Rodriquez on DC United’s left side. The change offered a new avenue of attack for DC with Segura impacting the game as soon as he came on. In 63 minutes Rodriquez only registered 10 passes. In 27 minutes Segura managed to complete 16, and in more dangerous areas as well.

Here are pass maps from the two players.

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Lucas Rodriquez passes – Whoscored.com

 

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Ulises Segura passes – Whoscored.com

The substitution fo Segura instantly provided another outlet for DC on the left side of the field, providing space for the likes of Acosta to operate. In the 82nd minute, Segura was heavily involved in another one of DC’s three shots on target.

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Segura drifts into the middle of the field, creating space on the left side of the field.

 

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Acosta passes the ball into Segura, then sprints into the space Segura created.

 

NYC FC - DC United - MLS - Tactical Analysis - Statistics
Segura cuts the ball back into Acosta who forces a brilliant save from Johnson.

Segura’s involvement in the game changed the dynamics of DC’s attack, providing the Red and White’s with more options going forward. His ability to drift into the middle of the park and link up with Acosta provided a few promising opportunities for DC.

Once again Acosta was at the heart of the chance, exploiting space created for him by teammates. As soon as Segura came on he was able to open up space for Acosta from another area of the park. Had Segura been involved earlier in the game, perhaps chances would have come more readily for Acosta.

Conclusion

If not for some incredible saves from Man of the Match Sean Johnson, DC United could have won this game 0-3. While New York created chances of their own, notably a great chance in the 89th minute, it was DC who had the better goal scoring opportunities.

Acosta was DC’s biggest threat during the game, finding the space created by his wingers. The inclusion of Segura changed the game, offering additional outlets for DC going forward. With limited possession, DC pressed New York high up the field, forcing turnovers and mistakes from the NYC defenders.

During the next match week, DC host Real Salt Lake City while New York host LAFC. After creating and missing countless chances during this match, both DC and New York will be hoping to convert those opportunities into goals next week.

Jamie Brackpool

As an avid fan, coach, and student of the game, football has taken over my life. And you know what? I don't mind. That's why any spare time I have is spent writing about it.

Jamie Brackpool

As an avid fan, coach, and student of the game, football has taken over my life. And you know what? I don't mind. That's why any spare time I have is spent writing about it.