One more game without a win on the road and the Chicago Fire will have a piece of MLS history, tying the longest winless road streak in league history.
That alone should provide plenty of motivation for a team that should have the confidence to snap the streak after enjoying its first win of the season on Saturday. In addition to the desire to snap the streak, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic has publicly stated this more than just another game.
Paunovic said the team had its honor hurt in the season opener and Sunday gives the team a chance for redemption by taking three points in New York's home stadium. And it is entirely possible.
New York has struggled since the season opening victory, suffering a loss and two draws, all at home. Patrick Vieira has tinkered with the personnel in search of a spark, but has yet to find it in his unusual "M-W" formation. Jake Gofman from Hudson River Blue was kind enough to answer some questions on the team's form, formation and future.
1) After a riveting 4-3 victory to open the season, New York seems to have hit the brakes a bit, still searching for its first win at home despite three attempts. What has gone wrong since that opener and is there a sense of panic yet among the fan base?
Gofman: I think there's a glass half full and a glass half empty answer to this question. The glass half empty answer is that our new formation, which employs three at the back, is hurting us, and our midfield is just not strong enough to support the goal scoring we require with a relatively weak backline. Pirlo just isn't the commanding generalissimo in the midfield that he once was, and there isn't a spark in the attack without his distribution. More concerning, the 3-4-3 enables our opposition to exploit us on the counter attack.
The glass half full camp has a few rebuttals. Firstly, the sample size is still way too small, and the results really aren't the end of the world, yet. More substantially, New York has actually dominated every facet of the game besides the score line. We have taken, on average, 5.7 more shots than our opposition and controlled the possession in every game (57% against Toronto, 66% against Orlando, and 63% against New England). The stats seem to indicate that our formation works to get us more possession and more shots, which should lead to goals, eventually.
I fall somewhere in between both camps. I think the formation, thus far, has yielded some unintended consequences. I also think that in the final third, our midfield needs to improve. That being said, this is going to take time, and our fans should be patient. It's only been three games, and our stats seem to indicate things will get better.
2) Patrick Vieira deploys the fairly unusual W-M formation. What have the pros and cons of that formation been so far? Do the odd field dimensions of New York make that an ideal formation at home?
Gofman: The formation certainly is odd, especially when you consider it's an unconventional W-M. Really, what we have in the midfield is two defensive holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders in a square-like formation. The lack of width in the midfield requires the wingers, Khiry Shelton and Tony Taylor/Steven Mendoza, to do a lot more defending than they typically would be required to do.
The cons have everything to do with the square midfield. When NYC FC needs a goal, or is even just on attack, it commits forward its wingers, attacking midfielders, and Pirlo at the fulcrum. This leave us with only our three defenders and our defensive midfielder at the back. So far, we have been lucky to limit counterattacking goals, so far.
There are some pros though. We do control the midfield with this formation, and it has allowed us to get more chances at goal, as I mentioned in my last answer. I think it's going to take more time to get it to work, and I'm fairly certain we are committed to playing it because it really should, theoretically, work well in narrow Yankee Stadium. So far the results have been lacking, but there are plenty of games to go to get it right.
3) Have there been any pleasant surprises in terms of players this season? Conversely, have there been any disappointing players that will need to improve for the team to find success?
Gofman: I think we're all very impressed with Ronald Matarrita, the 21-year old Costa Rican left back. He has been asked to do more than he's had to in the past, but has defended well and been strong on the ball. He can initiate the attack from the back, and has the speed to really contribute, if the situation calls for it.
Khiry has also been great for us. He defends better than I thought he would, and is growing into a capable offensive player. His touch can sometimes get away from him, but his raw athleticism is impressive.
I would say we've been disappointed with Pirlo, just because we expect so much from him. He's up at the top of the league in touches and passes, but he has not been able to connect on the killer balls we were hoping would ignite our attack. When you consider that that's something he's in the team to do, I think the disappointment becomes justifiable.
As well, I expected more out of Frederic Brillant, who was brought in as an experienced international center back. He was dreadful in the game versus Chicago, so much so that he has not made the team since.
4) What is your prediction?
Gofman: I think we see a more subdued version of the first meeting, with both defenses now getting comfortable. I'm terrified of Chicago's speed, but I think NYCFC pulls this one out by a score of 2-1.