A brief look at two statistics and this would appear to be a more even game than the score suggests. In terms of possession and duels, these teams were similar. They each won 49 individual battles and held the ball nearly 50 percent of the time.
These metrics are misleading, though, as New York was the clearly superior side.
Advanced study is required to determine why New York was able to win so soundly.
So rather than using pure numbers, this analysis examines the MLS Opta Chalkboard from the match. The Opta Chalkboard displays nearly every touch of every game and reports exactly where it happened on the pitch.
A deeper look into the Opta Chalkboard in this match explains three key tactical elements in New York’s victory.
Dax McCarty and Winning the Midfield
Since arriving via trade from D.C. United, many believe Dax McCarty to be New York’s best and most consistent player over the past two seasons.
Marred slightly so far this campaign in trying to figuring out spacing with Juninho, McCarty looked far more comfortable than he has been all season with the Brazilian out of the lineup due to suspension.
The American was free to playing his holding role as he’s done so in the past, allowing the rest of the midfield to attack at will. Not only did McCarty have the most touches of anyone on New York, his midfield play distribution was sublime.
Here’s a look at his pass attempts in the midfield.
He also picked up five ball recoveries in the midfield (half of his 10 total), and chipped in one interception and four tackles.
McCarty’s play offered New York the chance to either slow the pace of play when necessary with his more basic sideways and backwards possession, or to counter quickly with forward passing. His perfect pressure-releasing pass into space lead to his team’s third goal.
It was simply a clinic on how to boss a match through the midfield.
Thierry Henry and the Left Side of the Attacking Half
A quick look at all of Thierry Henry’s touches makes it clear that the Frenchman was stationed on the left side of the attacking half of the pitch. That is not to say that Henry did not float, as he is wont to do, but the majority of his time on the ball was spent on the left.
That makes sense. Henry has mastered the art of fake-shot cutback to his right. He also spent much of his prime starting on the left and drifting in for Arsenal.
The tactics were clear as a result: get Henry the ball on the left side of the field and let him create.
As such, Revolution fullback Roy Miller had more touches than his counterpart on the right, Brandon Barklage. Not only did Miller see the ball more, it was in more advanced areas too.
Manager Mike Petke did his best to surround Henry with as many teammates to combine with as possible. This worked quite well, too, as Jonny Steele, another left-sided player, contributed a goal of his own.
Simply stated, Henry is critical to New York’s possession: he knows exactly when to play one-touch and when to draw defenders by holding the ball. His five lay-offs gave attackers the chance to get forward and his four key passes illustrate how accurate and incisive his passing can be.
Defensive Third Positioning: Reading the Game
The Red Bulls did a fine job of stifling the New England attack when forced to defend in their own defensive third.
Rather than relying on tackling, New York’s backs and midfielders effectively spaced themselves to shut down passing lanes and tighten gaps between lines allowing New England nowhere to play.
New York’s 16 interceptions, 26 clearances and two blocked crosses in the defensive third of the field suggest a synced defense. They were disciplined, too; only conceding one foul.
Such a small figure may be the result of attempting fewer tackles (only five) and relying on superior positioning. Regardless, it worked, as they only allowed two corners in addition to the singular goal.
It’s no wonder that New England had difficulty connecting passes and crosses as they ventured closer to New York’s goal. The Revolution only completed 65 percent of their final third pass attempts.
The New York coaching staff will certainly be happy with the result and look to continue to build on some of the trends discussed above that provided them with such success.
The biggest question for New York the rest of the season is figuring out if Juninho and Dax McCarty are best-served playing together or not. Their roles do not seem clearly defined when the two are both on the pitch at the same time. It will be intriguing to see if Petke continues to deploy these two next to one another in the midfield, or if he instead considers a different strategy.