NEW YORK — Almost a year after New York City FC and Orlando City made their MLS debuts together as the expansion class of 2015, The two Eastern Conference clubs renewed acquaintances on Friday, still looking very much like works in progress.
Orlando won a scrappy 1-0 decision at Yankee Stadium on Friday, riding an early Cyle Larin goal and some organized defense to frustrate and neutralize an NYCFC attack that wound up having plenty of possession, but no goals to show for it.
Patrick Vieira's side deployed the 3-4-3 formation for the second straight week, but ran into an opposing system well-suited to counteract NYCFC's overloading of the central midfield. Orlando City is also using a new system this year, a 4-3-2-1 formation that capitalizes on the team's wealth of talented defensive midfielders, while also giving its lead attackers the space and freedom to go at defenses in any number of ways.
The midfield wall formed by Antonio Nocerino, Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita forced NYCFC to try and work wide rather than centrally, playing away from the team's strengths in the middle.
"It was really difficult. They were well organized and they made it really difficult for us to try and penetrate centrally," NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said of Orlando City. "That's why we decide to go wide and create the one-on-one situations. But obviously, when you go one-v-one, and put the ball inside the box, the delivery wasn't the best. I believe we gave them a hard time tonight, I think the only thing missing tonight was the goals."
Orlando City did a better job dealing with NYCFC's 3-4-3 formation. Not only because of its own system being a better matchup than TFC, but because Orlando City had a week to prepare for it, whereas TFC was caught by surprise when NYCFC deployed a system rarely seen in MLS.
"I thought we dealt with it quite well," Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said. "At times they've got really good movement. We've done work on it this week, about picking up the two attacking midfielders, Diskerud and McNamara, without letting Pirlo have as much space as he has.
"It does cause you problems, the shape that they have, but I thought on the whole I was pleased with our discipline with the game plan we set out."
Cyle Larin's early goal also contributed to Orlando City being able to sit back and absorb pressure, protecting the lead by forcing NYCFC to try and win by attacking the flanks, where NYCFC wasn't precise enough. NYCFC did manage to create some promising chances, but Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik stood up to the challenge each time, most impressively on a diving stop that denied Mix Diskerud's clear chance in the final minutes.
"We've actually played better than we have today in our two previous games, where we only picked a point up," Heath added. "That pretty much tells you what football's like, but it's three games, five points and we haven't been beaten yet so it's not a bad start."
The result kept Orlando City unbeaten while handing Vieira his first loss as a manager. He didn't sound too troubled though, saying after the match his team played better on Friday night than in last week's tie with Toronto FC.
Both teams have much more room to improve if they are going to challenge for the playoffs this year, and Friday's match did provide a reminder that the two members of the MLS Class of 2015 will continue to push each other, and measure themselves against each other, for the foreseeable future.
"I think there will always be something there like a rivalry, you see every game is close and an exciting game," Cyle Larin told Goal USA. "Today was an example of that. We were under pressure the whole game and held our ground. Last year was the same. All close games, with somebody scoring late. We came in as expansion teams in the same year so I think we'll have that rivalry for a while."
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