It has been 15 days since the Revolution played their last regular season match of 2021, a 1-0 loss vs Inter Miami FC. There’s still more waiting to do, as well, since the Revs record breaking success earned them a first round bye in the playoffs. We will need to wait another 8 full days, 23 from decision day, until we get to watch Bruce Arena’s team take the field. In the meantime, we have learned who their playoff opponent will be.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 8, 2021
NYCFC took down Atlanta United on Sunday, 2-0. NYCFC were 77% favorites to win, per 538.com, but slightly less favored by (mostly) Atlanta United fans.
With the Revs playoff opponent officially set, let’s go through some keys to beating the blue team from New York.
Don’t get chipped
Watching NYCFC vs Atlanta, I began to pick up on a pattern. New York was generating a lot of quality chances using a technique that felt familiar. A technique they had used in all 3 of their meetings with the Revolution.
When they had numbers in the box, they weren’t interested in passing wide, dribbling to the endline, and putting in a cross. They were more than content to just loft the ball over Atlanta’s back-line and hope a striker or winger got on the end of it. I stopped counting these chipped passes after about the fifth time.
It didn’t work every time, but that didn’t stop them from trying it over and over again. They got a few really good looks from this tactic. Just before halftime James Sands chipped a pass over the Atlanta defense to the chest of Santi Rodriguez. Rodriguez would put the ball in the net, only to see the flag raised, and the goal called for offside.
I went back through the three matches between the Revs and NYCFC and found that this strategy had lead to multiple goals and chances against New England, as well. Here’s a collection of them below.
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NYCFC play their home games on a fairly narrow field, and like to play direct. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they use a lofted pass as a means to bypass the back four from any location on the field. It’s a way to get the ball to your striker in the box, without having to push in a cross from the wide areas of the pitch.
To combat this, Turner will need to be smart about recognizing when it makes sense to come off his line. Likewise, Farrell and Kessler will need to remain vigilant. They can’t allow Castellanos to sneak in behind them when they push the line forward. NYC likes to play over the top when it seems like they might recycle possession. The center-backs will need to be alert and ready to win headers in the box.
Test Sean Johnson
Sean Johnson has been one of the best goalkeepers in MLS for years now, dating back to his days with the Chicago Fire. This year, however, hasn’t been one of his best. In 2021 he was more or less a bang-average keeper. With Blake, Willis, and Gallese on the other side of the bracket, Johnson might present the easiest challenge remaining in the East.
I went into detail on goals allowed vs expected goals allowed last week, and how it’s an important stat for goalkeepers. Sean Johnson has a GA-xGA on the season of +0.09, indicating that he actually allows slightly more goals than would be expected of an average keeper. This mark is good for 21st among all keepers and 14th among keepers facing at least 50 shots.
Likewise he’s 21st among all keepers in goals added (G+) with a -0.08 score there. A lot of that is shot-stopping, a stat where Johnson has been overwhelmingly average this year. However, the stat also takes into account other goalkeeping skills, such as claiming and passing. The negative number here indicates that his actions make it more likely that the other team scores than his own team does. By comparison, Matt Turner leads the league with a +8.83 goals added score.
Taking shots early and often, even from distance, could be a good strategy. Of course, those shots will need to be on-target. The revs had a rough go of that in their most recent fixture against Inter Miami. They put only 3 of their 16 attempts on frame. If they can work on their placement, there’s nothing about Sean Johnson’s game in 2021 that says he’s going to keep them all out.
Exploit the Wings
The Revolution are at a disadvantage when it comes to the length of time between games. 23 days between games is a long time to build rust. That is somewhat negated by the fact that the Revs have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. NYCFC has, like most MLS teams, been worse on the road than they have been at home. They have won just 4 of 17 games away from home this year.
Part of that is built into the parity of the league, but part of it could have to do with the size of their field. NYCFC play their matches at Yankee Stadium, which has close to the narrowest allowable field size.
A wider field means more pockets of space for New England’s wingers and fullbacks. Add in NYCFC’s list of injured defenders, and there should be some opportunity for New England to attack from the flanks.
New England had their best successes against New York this season in transition and up the wings. Both goals and one near miss in our Sept. 11th match against NYCFC came from those areas. The Revs were able to beat NYCFC one-on-one on the wings and pass the ball to open attackers.
In fairness, New York was playing a man down in the second half, but the point largely stands. Drag a defender out wide, beat him 1v1, serve in a cross. That worked at Gillette in September, and it could work in the playoffs.
How do you think the Revs should attack NYCFC in the playoffs? Let us know on twitter!