LA Galaxy – NYCFC: New York City FC Dominate Ibrahimović And Galaxy In Marquee MLS Battle (0-2)

NYCFC continued their strong up-turn in form as they travelled to Los Angeles to take on Zlatan Ibrahimović and his teammates. Thanks to a strong first half showing led by Brazilian forward Héber and aided by the Galaxy’s woeful attack, New York City left the west coast with all three points in a dominating performance. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Carl Carpenter.

Regardless of league position or stage of the season, LA Galaxy and New York City FC are undoubtedly two clubs which will draw viewers’ attention, especially when they come head-to-head. In a match featuring the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexandru Mitriță, and more, an exciting and attacking battle could be expected.

The hosts entered the match second in the Western Conference, leaving the memories of last season’s poor campaign behind, or so it may seem. The last two outings for the Galaxy have seen them lose both matches and add some worry to supporter’s faces. That being said, returning home to Dignity Health Sports Park after their travels probably served as a welcomed change of pace and the opportunity to get back on track for manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto and his players.

NYCFC started the season poorly but seem to have refound their form in recent weeks; pretty much the polar opposite to their opponents on Saturday afternoon. Manager Domènec Torrent has started to show signs of recognizing his best starting eleven and returning his team to the upper echelons of the table (a spot which is the bare minimum for them.)

One of the keys to New York City’s change in form has been the simple fact that in recent weeks, they have gotten healthier. This might seem simple enough, but this allowed Torrent more flexibility in his system. While NYCFC started the season in a 4-1-4-1 shape, the 3-4-3 shape they started with in Los Angeles is more closely resembling the “finished product” in regards to tactical ideals.

Homegrown center-back James Sands returned to the center of defense, as did Tony Rocha and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the midfield. Héber, an unknown quantity prior to the season, has been a key man for NYCFC in leading the line. In this formation, Torrent’s men would like to utilize the back three to contribute heavily in possession and create opportunities for their wing-backs.

The Galaxy matched their opponents by playing a back three, but with a few wrinkles. For one, contrary to starting with one center forward up front, they started with two (denoting a 3-5-2 formation, or sometimes a 5-3-2): Ibrahimović joined by the Mexican player Uriel Antuna. At the center of defense, Giancarlo González was the key man at directing the players around him and going the other way, Sebastien Lletget would provide the link between the midfield and forwards. Decreasing the match in regards to star power for the Galaxy (as well as the neutral), was an injury to Designated Player Jonathan dos Santos.

NYCFC’s formation in possession against Galaxy’s 5-3-1-1 shape.

NYCFC And Héber Dominate The First Half

The first period of the match was fairly docile in its tone and tempo. Both teams looked to move the ball on the floor to unsettle the opposition: NYCFC through its wing-backs and LA Galaxy through Lletget. While the away side did dominate more of the ball, there were few chances for either club.

It was clear from the start why Héber’s introduction to the lineup has coincided with such good form from he and his teammates. While not especially a massive player in terms of physique, the Brazilian’s ability to link-up with his fellow attackers and occupy opposition center-backs makes him a key player in knitting together play. In the first half in particular, the forward created tons of issues for the Galaxy defense on their right-hand side as runs from Rónald Matarrita in coordination with the passes from Maxi Moralez overloaded When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. LA. While the subsequent crosses often went astray, it highlighted the effect the striker and in turn the 3-4-3 formation had on NYCFC’s play.

The Galaxy focused more of their play in central areas through the aforementioned Lletget. As has been the case in recent weeks, seemed unable to find him or create danger when they did. NYCFC’s rugged midfield duo of Ring and Rocha often pistoned when the ball moved around them to sit on top of the Galaxy’s attacking midfielder and deny him service. Because of this, Schelotto’s men were forced to attack through their wing-backs in a similar fashion to NYCFC. However, while this match in formation helped them defensively, it did little for them as an attacking force. They did gain more and more possession as the first half wore on, and had a goal (correctly) ruled offside, but all in all, it was a pretty disappointing half for the home team.

NYCFC and Héber’s change in form of late was rewarded in the last few minutes of the first half, as the forward pounced on an effort from teammate Tajouri-Shradi to slide home past goalkeeper David Bingham. The damage was not done, however, as a penalty decision for handball that went to VAR was converted by Moralez. It was not as dominant a first half as we have seen in MLS this season, but NYCFC definitely deserved their lead going into the break whatever the margin.

LA Galaxy Continue To Struggle, NYCFC Keep Stable to Secure Three Points

It was no surprise that the Galaxy responded to their first-half showing by making a substitution: Diedie Traore was taken off for Emmanuel Boateng. This meant a switch to a back four, with Antuna moving out wide. It was seemingly hoped that by switching to an alternate formation, the Galaxy would be able to utilize and create more scenarios centrally rather than become overly reliant on crosses and other wide play. Their tendency in the first half to play with two players in the middle (Lletget often forming a three up front while in possession) left them outnumbered and poor at circulating the ball. Adding another body in the middle of the park, while it did leave them exposed defensively when they previously could defend with five, gave them greater emphasis to create chances on goal.

Buoyed by their two-goal lead and responding to Schelotto’s changes at halftime, NYCFC took their foot of the gas slightly in terms of their offensive organization. Torrent’s men simply looked to monopolize possession wherever possible and let the Galaxy act as their own worst enemies. As it transpired, this approach worked a treat. While still quite early in the season, LA’s legs seemed to give out as the second half wore on and they could not fashion anything to worry Sean Johnson in NYCFC’s goal.

Ibrahimović was the clearest example of this tiredness and his lack of touches in dangerous areas on the pitch contributed to the Galaxy’s incredibly blunt attack. It was a damning indictment on his team’s play with the ball that despite having a player like Zlatan capable of manufacturing chances on his own, they were unable to do so. As the game wore on, the Swedish forward dropped deeper and deeper to try and get the ball as his frustration grew exponentially.   

Compared to the first half, the second was comparatively evenly matched, but it was NYCFC who allowed it to be so. They had no reason to try and dominate the match out-right considering their position of strength. The Galaxy failed to make any inroads to the match and the game petered out to its expected conclusion.

While simple shot statistics are often a poor way to analysis a match, LA Galaxy managed double figures in this department but failed to hit the target with any of them all but one. Even with this one effort on goal, Chris Pontius sent the subsequent effort over the bar and Zlatan Ibrahimović then grabbed goalkeeper Sean Johnson by the throat. The ultimate display in frustration for Galaxy and the Swede.

NYCFC stopped playing offense in the second half.


NYCFC will be pleased that they barely had to break a sweat to secure all three points in their trip across the United States. Long away trips can often be incredibly draining for players, and aided by their strong uptick in form of late, they left Los Angeles with a fantastic performance. In the first half Héber showed why he is so crucial his club, and why the switch to a 3-4-3 formation from manager Doménec Torrent has proved to be a masterstroke so far.

Schelotto will likely be hugely worried at his side’s inability to come out of the match with any positives. While on paper, matching up NYCFC in regards to formation should have stunted the opposition in an attacking sense, but it backfired badly and they looked inept whenever they looked to get on the ball. While things did stabilize in the second half, the damage was done and this was largely thanks to New York allowing them to try and force a way back.

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