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LA Galaxy vs New York City FC: Three Things With

Three things with Hudson River Blue.

New York City FC v Los Angeles Galaxy
Gio vs Pirlo two seasons ago.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

We sat down with Hudson River Blue to discuss New York City FC, who we face tonight at the StubHub Center.

1) How's the second season gone under Patrick Viera? Has there been any notable differences in style of play or how they go about playing as a team?

Vieira — just like last season — sets up his team to “play from the back”. Broadly speaking, that means that New York City like to maintain possession, and build their offense through a short-passing game that starts with either the goalkeeper (Sean Johnson) or the back line. His standard formation this season has been a 4-3-3, on which he settled at roughly the midpoint of last season.

If anything, this season has seen a refinement in New York City’s playing style, with the team becoming a lot more coherent and smoother in transitioning from offense to defense. While the Pigeons made the playoffs last season, their play this season — more composed, far stingier in defense — is what makes them genuine playoff contenders.

Speaking of the defense; in 2015 and 2016, it was the weak point for New York City. This season, they’ve only surrendered three goals after the 75th minute mark. There’s no doubt that the combination of Johnson in goal and Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot in central defense was a huge upgrade. Unfortunately for us, Chanot won’t be available tonight; but Frederic Brillant has deputized ably in his stead.

2) Who should the Galaxy fans keep an eye on? Who's going to give the defense fits?

All eyes are justifiably on reigning MLS MVP David Villa and, less so, on Jack Harrison. But Galaxy fans shouldn’t ignore Jonathan Lewis, whom New York City drafted this year, and has already started twice — including the most recent Hudson River Derby clash, where he came close to scoring multiple times. His speed gives any back line fits. Also worth keeping an eye on: Ben Sweat, who was a Columbus Crew castoff before Vieira turned him into a solid wingback.

3) Is Andrea Pirlo's departure a surprise? Or has it been coming with the midfield additions?

It isn’t a surprise. Andrea Pirlo never fit in with New York City, largely for two reasons. First, Pirlo’s limitations as a player — his lack of speed and his relative inability to defend — mean that you have to effectively build the midfield around shielding him. New York City wasn’t going to do that, especially not once Vieira settled on a 4-3-3. That meant that Pirlo had to contribute on defense, and that his slowness was repeatedly exploited by faster players, which in turn meant he had to commit defensively, which he’s never been great at.

Second, like many Designated Players, it’s now abundantly clear that Pirlo never really committed to playing in MLS, seeing it instead as a payday. Which is fine; nothing wrong with that. But MLS in 2017 isn’t a league that’s conducive to that on the field — which we’ve seen countless times with him losing players on set pieces, or giving up lots of time and space to players he’s supposed to be marking. And off the field? It speaks volumes that the marketing around the team centers around David Villa, who’s actually learned English and embraced living in New York opposed to Pirlo, who hasn’t, and remains every bit as removed from the team and league as the day he first arrived.

At this point, it’s a good thing for both Pirlo and New York City that he’s leaving. It hasn’t worked out — which is sad, but that’s more on Pirlo than on the team. And it’s a sign of MLS’s maturity as a league that a guy like Pirlo wasn’t able to come in and “dominate”, however diminished he might’ve been.

Predicted XI: Johnson; White, Brillant, Callens, Sweat; Ring, McNamara, Herrera; Harrison, Villa, Lewis