The Revolution (1-1-1) came into their third game of the season with a tall order. New York City FC (3-0-1) arrived in town in good form after winning its first three games of the season and only conceding one goal.
The first half was all about the Revolution after showcasing their ability to successfully press the best team in the league into a one-goal deficit 10 minutes into the game. NYCFC was able to break through the Revolution's defensive scheme in the second half and add two goals, leaving both teams with two after the final whistle.
Let's look at the starting 11...
Brad Friedel left the starting 11 largely untouched in comparison to last week's game against Colorado. The personnel in the front six remained the same, although we saw Penilla and Rowe switch sides in the first 30 minutes. With the return of Claude Dielna from suspension, Friedel decided that he would return to center back alongside Jalil Anibaba. Andrew Farrell moved from center back to his normal right back position.
The Revolution knew coming into this game that NYCFC had the success that they did against previous opponents because of their discipline to win the ball back right after losing it. Friedel's answer to this was to give them a taste of their own medicine. It became clear that this was going to be the plan from the opening whistle. The press proved to be incredibly effective resulting in a goal in the 11th minute and five other quality scoring chances. The heat map for NYCFC at halftime of this game was an awesome visual representation of how effective the Revolution's press was.
To compare, look at NYCFC's heat map at full time against Orlando City the week before.
You can see the difference in overall field position and the extent to which they were pinned in their own defensive third throughout the first half.
The Revolution have shown us so far this season that they have a clear defensive shape that they mesh into when they are on the defensive side of the ball. Fagundez steps out of the CAM position and presses higher on the opponent's center backs alongside Bunbury. Caldwell and Zahibo then move in tandem alongside each other, leaving the team in a clear 4-4-2. The shape was clear at various points in the game and I've highlighted them for you.
This can be dangerous against an opponent that plays with five players in the midfield because it can prove to increase the defensive workload for the two central midfielders. Friedel clearly trusts the ability of Zahibo and Caldwell to cover the ground in the midfield, or we just haven't seen a team break down the Revolution well enough in this position for Friedel to have to make any adjustments.
He was the driving force behind many of the Revolution's attacking chances during his time on the field. Before being subbed off in the 77th minute for Brandon Bye, Penilla was able to create eight attacking chances for the Revolution. Penilla was a nightmare for the NYCFC back line to defend on both sides of the field. Penilla's speed and athleticism is also an asset when the Revolution decide to press their opponents, as he was able to create two chances by winning the ball from NYCFC defenders in their own end (here is one of them below).
It's apparent Penilla is beginning to gel with the rest of the front six. Penilla and Diego Fagundez worked particularly well together in this game and had 13 chances between the two of them. Let's look back at some of Penilla's highlights from this game.
Fagundez was second in chances created against NYCFC (Penilla) and opened the Revolution's scoring in the 11th minute. Fagundez had a part in many of the Revolution's chances. He normally plays higher when on the defensive side of the ball (he is the second forward in that defensive 4-4-2 that they play) and he uses that height to make runs into the wings to receive passes from midfielders and defenders. On top of that, it's difficult to take him off of the ball because he keeps it so close on the dribble. Watch the video below to see what makes him so good in tight spaces and so difficult to defend.
Zahibo played a more balanced game this week than he did last week against Colorado. Last week, Zahibo did a great job of defending Colorado's midfield and dispossessing them in the run of play. Although Zahibo didn't force as many clear turnovers as he did last week, he balanced it out by improving on the ball against NYCFC. Zahibo had a team-high 32 passes against NYCFC and had a part in both of the goals that the Revolution scored. Zahibo was the one to step in on the loose ball forced by the Revolution's pressure and play it into Diego Fagundez's feet for the first goal, and he played a brilliant long ball wide to Penilla on the wing before Penilla eventually assisted Juan Agudelo on the Revolution's second goal.
Dielna's lack of responsibility on the field so far this season has been disappointing. After receiving a red card (two yellow cards in the first game) and a yellow card in two games, you would imagine Dielna would make a more conscious effort to improve his decision-making. In the 70th minute when the Revolution were up 2-1, Dielna came flying in on Herrera just over 20 yards from goal. The thoughtless challenge earned a booking and an NYCFC free kick in a dangerous position. It wasn't only me that felt this way about the challenge — have another look at Farrell's reaction to the play.
Only a minute later NYCFC's right center back Maxime Chanot played the ball to Maxi Moralez (who had his back to goal) just past midfield when Dielna came charging in on Moralez. This decision was not only questionable from a disciplinary perspective but also from a positional standpoint. If Moralez were to turn on Dielna, it would have set up another counter-attack at a stage in the game where the Revolution were already fatigued from pressing for 70 minutes.
Maybe it's because he has played right back for most of his professional career but Anibaba's awareness while playing center back seems to be lacking. On multiple occasions throughout the game, Anibaba was so engaged in what was going on in front of him that he lost track of players making runs behind him. A center back has to keep his head on a swivel at all times when moving on the field. Look at the video below to see what I'm referring to.
Bunbury's play improved from last week to this week, however, the bar was set fairly low before this week's game. Bunbury continues to struggle to hold the ball up for the Revolution when they need height. If the Revolution have no options up the field to play off of, it makes building possession up the field much more difficult. Bunbury often has the help of Fagundez who makes runs into the wide channels similar to the way a lone forward would, but he doesn't seem to benefit from that leftover space. We did see flashes of good play from Bunbury while playing forward, but it needs to be more consistent before the Revolution are firing on all cylinders in the attacking third. Here is a video of Penilla holding the ball up so that the Revolution can continue their attack. This is the type of play that the Revolution need from Bunbury as a lone forward.