FLUSHING, N.Y. — The offseason arrived swiftly Wednesday night in Queens, much sooner than anyone at New York City FC expected.
A shock upset defeat to Toronto FC at Citi Field meant a fourth straight ouster in the Eastern Conference semifinals and some time to reflect on what was, outside of 90 minutes against the Reds, a banner season for NYCFC.
But then Dome Torrent, who just completed his first full season in charge after taking over midway through the 2018 season when Patrick Vieira left for Nice in France, planted the seed of doubt on his return for 2020.
“I don’t know what will happen,” Torrent said in his postmatch press conference. “Right now we have time, it’s October, we have time to talk about the next year. But don’t worry because if Dome’s not here … the most important thing is the club. They have a good, good team, amazing players and no doubt about if Dome is the head coach or another coach, he can play really well with these kind of players.”
Torrent is under contract for 2020, but talked about the team’s salary budget, which he described as middle of the league, as a concern he needs to discuss with City Football Group brass in Manchester in the coming days.
“Believe me, it’s not important,” Torrent said on if he returns for next season. “They are ready for another coach, because they are a group, a big group. They are ready. But don’t worry. Patrick is not here, it’s Dome. If Dome is not here, another coach.”
A tactical chess match
The Eastern Conference semifinal was an interesting tactical battle between Torrent and Toronto FC’s Greg Vanney, with both altering their shape and plans from regular season meetings.
Despite playing on short rest, the Reds took the game to NYCFC in a dominant opening 45 minutes by pressing high.
“We wanted to eliminate any time they had on the ball and we put a lot into the first half,” Vanney said. “Small field, we were pressing them, we were making it difficult, we were missing balls, we were attacking. The only thing that didn’t come out of the first half was just a lead. In every other aspect I felt we just dominated it.”
Torrent said his team in the first half “were not comfortable with the ball. Maybe we start nervous a little bit.”
That necessitated a halftime change with NYCFC, which started the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation to switch to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. When Heber came on for Keaton Parks, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who played as a striker in the first half, moved out wide on the right and Heber and Taty Castellanos played as dual strikers.
“We changed our shape in the second half because we were in trouble in the first half,” Torrent said. “i think we played much better despite 1-0, maybe much better. But that happens.”
Vanney said NYCFC’s change threw his team for a loop.
“When they pushed up the second forward, it changed our rotations to step out to them defensively,” Vanney said. “Then we ended up in between, they brought up [Ronald] Matarrita inside, they went to a diamond. So, our matchups weren’t as clean as they were earlier in the game and they were able to find these little pockets of time on us, and they were just running guys through our back line and playing pretty direct. But the directness came from the fact that they had time on the ball and they could just put balls behind us.”
Vanney said it took some time, and a couple of subs, to reconfigure, “to get everyone in the right spots and bring calm back to the game.”
Too much rest?
Leading up to the game, Torrent said there would be no excuses — not a different home field, not the 17 days between games after earning a first-round bye by finishing atop the Eastern Conference — if the result didn’t go NYCFC’s way.
True to form, in the locker room after the game, rust from not playing a competitive match since Decision Day wasn’t brought up as a reason for NYCFC’s sluggish first half.
“We worked hard enough to put ourselves in a position and with that position comes responsibility to take care of business when the moment comes up,” Sean Johnson said. “I think you can go around the room and ask any player, they won’t put it down to anything that happened over the past week and a half, two weeks. For us, the moment was now and it simply wasn’t good enough for a team to go out the way we did. And now, we’re looking at another offseason.”