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Sounders vs NYCFC: Three Questions

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Sunday’s game features two teams on short rest.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Drink water. Protect yourself from the sun. These two things are more important than the game. Yes, Sounder at Heart will repeat this mantra Sunday. That’s our safety reminder.

New York City FC is in town after a Thursday night match in Orlando. That win was their fourth straight, but their depth will be tested. That’s unusual for a squad that likes to feature the same guys as much as possible.

Seattle Sounders are dealing with surprise injuries, because it’s 2018.

Rafael Noboa y Rivera from Hudson River Blue answers Three Questions. No questions were asked of SaH. Projected lineups are included.

SaH: What’s the change in coaching meant for the team on the field, and the organization as a whole?

HRB: I’ll start by reiterating something: it drives home the point that New York City FC, much more so than Melbourne City, is an integral part of the City system. After Patrick Vieira left, some people speculated that maybe NYC would would look at Caleb Porter. That was never going to happen. CFG took a flyer on a MLS coach once; it didn’t work out. Dome Torrent’s replacement, when that happens, will be someone who’s already working for CFG.

You can call that a farm team, if you want. If you do that, though, then the Red Bulls are also one. I think it makes more sense to think of them as teams able to tap into a vast network of resources.

On the field, what it’s meant is a fair bit of pragmatism and tactical flexibility. Vieira was a fantastic coach. But one of his fundamental flaws was his inflexibility. No matter the situation, New York City was ideologically committed to building from the back, and possessing the ball. That’s how Manchester City plays, and New York City are essentially going to play like that, much like the Red Bull teams utilize gegenpressing as a scaffolding for their game plans.

But Torrent’s been much more willing to switch things up to get a result than Vieira ever was. He will not shy away from making impact subs, he will change things up tactically to reset the game. That makes City a harder team to play, because you have to account for those wrinkles in the plan.

SaH: Orlando to Seattle is the second longest trip in MLS, and NYCFC got hosed with that midweek. How will that impact the match?

HRB: For starters, you’re going to see squad rotation. Alex Ring — an invaluable part of the midfield trio — is suspended because of yellow card accumulation. You may finally see Jonathan Lewis start a game up top, which is something Pigeons fans want to see. New York City have made two additions this past week in Eloi Amagat and Valentin Castellanos, but I’d be shocked if either made an appearance, because they haven’t trained with the team. Jo-Inge Berget and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi both made late cameos after being out injured.

My hunch is that New York City will start slowly, and be more than happy with a road point. You’ll probably see the same 4-3-3 City uses, and I’d rotate the squad like this (L-R):

Johnson; Matarrita, Ibeagha, Chanot, Abdul-Salaam; Ofori, Awuah, McNamara; Lewis, Berget, Tajouri-Shradi.

SaH: When will David Villa return to the field, and is he key to New York making a run at the Shield?

HRB: That’s incredibly hard to say. He remains out with an unspecified knee injury, and there’s no timetable for his return. It was easy to imagine after three brilliant seasons in MLS that Villa was ageless. The reality is that time triumphs over all athletes, and Villa is no different.

Here’s the interesting thing, though: after Thursday’s game against Orlando, New York City have now played 10 out of their 60 MLS regular season away games without David Villa in the starting lineup. They average 1.1 points and 1.3 goals per game with Villa in the lineup, and 1.3 points and 1.5 goals per game without Villa.

So, on the field, it doesn’t look like they’ve missed Villa much. But Villa contributes more than just goals. He’s a tireless presence who’s willing to track back on defense, and able to create something out of nothing. He’s the one player whom New York City fans have looked to more than any other. And not just fans; when Villa was first absent, New York City looked disjointed and arrhythmic on the field.

That hasn’t been the case lately, which goes to show how deep the team is. But a healthy Villa gives New York City an edge it lacks otherwise. Yes, he’s key to winning the Shield — and the Cup.

Projected Lineup (4-3-3): Johnson; Matarrita, Ibeagha, Chanot, Abdul-Salaam; Ofori, Awuah, McNamara; Lewis, Berget, Tajouri-Shradi.

Sounders Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1): Frei; Nouhou, Marshall, Kim, Leerdam; Svensson, Alonso; Shipp, Dempsey, CRoldan; Ruidiaz