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NYCFC’s tactical change that turned the table against Sporting Kansas City

A tactical change late in the first half proved critical for NYCFC, which lost influential Maxi Moralez to a calf injury

Jul 26, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC midfielder Maximiliano Moralez (10) walks off the field with a member of the medical staff during the second half against Sporting Kansas City at Yankee Stadium. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

BRONX, N.Y. — New York City FC captain Alex Ring realized things weren’t quite working.

The Cityzens were outnumbered in the attacking third because Sporting Kansas City’s back four had additional help from defensive midfielder Ilie Sanchez, who would also facilitate the visitors attack.

So late in the first half, during a stoppage in play, Ring and NYCFC coach Dome Torrent hatched a plan to change the club’s shape.

Ring moved up from his No. 6 position to a more advanced role in the attack as the No. 10. Keaton Parks slid back to help battle Krisztian Nemeth for 50-50 balls when Sporting KC played long out of the back.

“We were going to push Keaton high and leave me there, but they were playing a lot with Nemeth high balls,” Ring said. “I said to him maybe it would be better for Keaton to go and win the headers and I could mark Ilie at the same time defensively and I think it worked well.”

Almost immediately the shift in formation paid dividends as Anton Tinnerholm put NYCFC in front on a well-worked, collective team goal in the 41st minute.

Ring thrived in his attacking role with a goal and two assists in New York City FC’s 3-1 win Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

“They were trying to play through their No. 6 a lot and once Ringy pushed up and stayed on him, they were just playing long balls and it’s just easier for me to win a header,” Parks said.

Torrent lauded Ring’s versatility, saying he believes he’s maybe best suited as a No. 8 or a No. 10 in a 4-3-3.

“We played 5-3-2 last 30 minutes. It’s a good shape for Ringy because he has this quality,” Torrent said. “He arrives all the time, he has control of the ball and after he helps us a lot when we don’t have the ball.”

Moralez injured

It appeared innocuous at first — Maxi Moralez sitting on the ground while being tended to by trainers. Nothing that happened immediately before suggested an injury — he didn’t grab for anything or limp or suffer a harsh tackle.

Yet, there was NYCFC’s playmaker walking off the pitch in the 52nd minute, replaced by Ebenezer Ofori.

After the game, Torrent said Moralez felt discomfort in his calf during the first half, but wanted to see if he could play through it. The idea was for him to give it maybe 15 minutes after halftime.

But almost right after the restart, Moralez signaled to the bench for the change.

“I don’t know what will happen in the All-Star Game, but everybody knows the game was not over in that moment. Maybe we miss this player for two, three weeks,” Torrent said. “I don’t know right now. We have to wait one or two days and have medical tests about Maxi.”

Moralez was walking without a limp in the hallway outside the NYCFC locker room afterward and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to participate in the All-Star Game Wednesday in Orlando.

Moralez has been low-key one of the best players in MLS in the first half of the season. The 32-year-old Argentine has six goal and a league-leading 13 assists in 18 starts.

“I think he is a key man and let’s hope he isn’t injured badly,” Ring said. “I think it was precautionary, I don’t know his situation right now, but everyone knows he’s important to us, not only going offensively, but also the work he puts in. I think he’s underrated by many people in this league and I think it’s well deserved that he’s going to All-Stars.”

Torrent said his team’s ability to play in different shapes and formations with players who can fill different roles will make it easier to deal with Moralez’s absence, regardless of the length.

“I know he’s important for us, he’s our key man. Everybody knows that,” Torrent said. “But we can play with Keaton in between the lines, we can play with [Gary Mackay-Steven], with Jesus Medina, with these types of players.”

Nothing but net

NYCFC’s first goal was a thing of beauty, a seven-pass sequence starting with a chipped ball by Sean Johnson and ending with a right-footed finish at the back post by Tinnerholm.

The right back’s momentum took him to the back of the net, where he was caught up in the netting and fell. He was joined by Heber, who dived in, followed by James Sands, Ronald Matarrita, Alexandru Mitrita and Maxime Chanot in a big dogpile in the back of Tim Melia’s net.

Did the celebration match the aesthetically pleasing goal?

“It’s a good celebration to celebrate in the goal because the goalkeeper hates it,” Tinnerholm said. “And I like that.”

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