Following a successful trip to the Pacific Northwest, New York City FC is bracing for a home stand that includes three matches in a seven-day period, beginning with the resurgent New England Revolution this Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
The final seven regular-season matches for City are scheduled in less than a month, an arduous conclusion to the campaign, and include games against their two primary foes for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Despite the physical and emotional demands of the fixtures, NYCFC coach Dome Torrent said he will not be searching for the perfect player-rotation formula.
In previous periods when City played multiple matches in a condensed time frame, Torrent sought to provide rest for regulars such as Maxi Moralez, Hebér, Anton Tinnerholm and Alex Ring.
Barring injury, suspension or international call-ups, Torrent said he will field his best XI the remainder of the season.
“My experience in the last 11 years with Pep [Guardiola] is you can rotate if a player has discomfort and you can rotate in the last four months,” Torrent said. “But not in the last two months.”
Torrent, who was Guardiola’s lieutenant at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City before his assignment in the Bronx, said the importance of finishing at the top of the table is also a factor.
“Especially with the change in the playoff system,” he said. “It’s very important for us to finish in the first position or the second position and you have a knockout game. It’s very important to play at home.”
All playoff matches this season are single-elimination with the highest seed earning the home-field advantage.
The Pigeons have lost just one of their 13 home matches and are currently second in the Eastern Conference (50 points). They will host third-place Atlanta United (48 points) Sept. 25 and close the regular season Oct. 6 at the first-place Philadelphia Union (51 points).
At the moment, City has two games in hand on the Union and controls its fortune to win the conference for the first time with an East-leading 1.85 points per game.
“It’s not easy, we have many, many good teams to play,” Torrent said. “Right now, it’s important that we get three points against New England.”
Pep gives Dome a shout out
In a recent interview, Guardiola discussed a tactical move that was revolutionary in the Bundesliga. And he suggested that it was a joint decision to make Philip Lahm an inverted fullback at Bayern Munich.
“Domènec [Torrent] and I started thinking to put Lahm inside where he could attack through the middle and he loved it!”
Pep Guardiola explains the importance about inverted fullback.
▪ we play them inside to gain extra passess
▪ to have more players behind the ball and be more effective in transition when we lose the ball
▪ inside they have to play like midfielders
Enjoy it ! pic.twitter.com/P9iVt4ELXY
— Footy Analytics for Coaches, Analysts & Fanatics (@footyanalytics2) September 1, 2019
Torrent has utilized similar tactics during his 14 months at NYCFC with fullbacks Anton Tinnerholm and Ronald Matarrita — although New York City has found a majority of its success with that pair providing the width in the attack as wing backs in a 3-4-3 shape.
Guardiola and Torrent won seven trophies in three seasons together at Bayern and 24 in all at the three European clubs.
Rocha finally makes the playoffs
The irony was not lost on Tony Rocha.
About a half-hour after New York City’s win over the Whitecaps, the San Jose Earthquakes finished up a tidy 3-0 home victory against Orlando City – a result that clinched NYCFC’s fourth consecutive playoff berth.
Orlando City SC and New York City FC joined MLS together in 2015, and the team from the south has never qualified for the postseason. The Lions are sitting ninth in the East and in jeopardy of failing to attain a playoff berth again — the top seven teams advance.
Rocha played his first three MLS seasons in Orlando.
“I think the guys were just joking with me because it’s my first playoff, but it feels good,” Rocha said. “I don’t want to talk about those guys [Orlando City]. I still have a couple of friends on that team so I don’t want to say anything bad about them.”
The Texas native appeared in 23 matches with 11 starts for the Lions from 2016-18. Without fanfare, New York City acquired Rocha from Orlando City in exchange for a fourth-round selection in the MLS SuperDraft.
Good for Tony! When we signed him, I was wondering "who is this guy and why bother?" Turns out Rocha is a very nice piece of the puzzle and a good addition to the team.
— gene (@gene14800846) September 1, 2019
And there are Lions supporters who regret his departure.
Gee thanks Tony 😂. Happy for him actually- always thought he had potential so of course we let him go https://t.co/5vEcQtaDp0
— Patty Floyd 💜🦁⚽ (@PvalFloyd) September 2, 2019
Rocha has been a valuable reserve and spot starter. He replaced the suspended Ring against Vancouver and now has six starting assignments among his 12 appearances. He has performed with quality in the midfield, at fullback and in central defense.
“I don’t really think about that,” Rocha said. “Wherever Dome puts me I just go out there and play and hopefully help the team win.”
The good work has earned Rocha a call-up to the Belize men’s national team for a pair of Concacaf Nations League matches this week. The Jaguars play French Guayana Thursday and Grenada Sunday.