Editor’s note: The following is a submission from guest author Nate Gilman, offering a tactical breakdown of FC Cincinnati’s loss Saturday at New York City FC.
Last week against Nashville SC was an example of the scoreline flattering FC Cincinnati’s performance. The NYCFC match, in some ways, was the opposite. Despite the 5-0 result, the match’s expected goals scoreline was much closer, 2.1 to 1.4 in favor of NYCFC. NYCFC’s four goals contributed 0.74 of NYCFC’s expected goals, but Jesus Medina’s opener accounted for nearly all, 0.6, of that total. FC Cincinnati’s miserable set-piece defending is and should be a major talking point this week, and that’s the case here too.
A Quick Breakdown Of The Set Piece Goals
Not that anyone (myself included) really wants to dwell on the set-piece goals, it’s, at the very least, worth considering what happened to better understand what went wrong, ways FCC can improve going forward and what to look for in coming matches. I’m not an expert in goalkeeping or the finer x’s and o’s of set-piece marking. I’ll be looking forward to hearing Coach Gough break these down this week. After watching these over and over again, here’s a review of what happened on each goal followed by some bigger picture thoughts.
1-0, Medina 7’: Free kick from the right of Cody Cropper’s goal, about 18 yards from the endline. In-swinging ball, FC Cincinnati is set up zonally or at least mostly zonally. Nick Hagglund just misses the header and an NYCFC player heads it down and off of Calvin Harris. The deflection off of Harris comes to Andres Jasson, who takes a shot toward the back post, which deflects off an NYCFC player who is on the ground and falls to Jesus Medina who is all alone at the back post. It looks like Brenner, who was on the near 6-yard box corner, never tracked him after the ball went over his head on the delivery.
2-0, Hagglund OG 53’: Inswinging corner from Cropper’s left by Medina. Hagglund either wins the ball outright or Chanot heads it onto head and it goes in. Cropper wasn’t in the goal because he came for the ball but never had a chance and didn’t get a hand to it. He just gets cleaned out by Hagglund jumping. Hagglund looks to be defending zonally, Yuya Kubo can’t keep Chanot from getting his spot and contesting for the ball.
3-0, Thórarinsson 57’: Freekick from 29 yards. Quick distribution from Cropper on a save to Caleb Stanko, who is dispossessed easily. Allan Cruz fouls and gets a yellow card. NYCFC’s left back Thórarinsson hits it around the wall, putting it into the goal on a hop. NYCFC commentators note that the wall probably should have been further over, and I’m inclined to agree.
4-0, Castellanos 67’: If you’re looking for a definitive example of why FC Cincinnati not having a plan against a high press is such an issue, look no further than this play. Cropper plays a goal kick short to Tom Pettersson on his left. With no options, the ball goes back to Cropper, who tries to play the ball to Hagglund but he’s on the edge of the box near the endline, the ball is under hit and Hagglund slips. Medina pounces and plays the ball towards the center of the box. Stanko comes from behind to clear for a corner before Morales can get a touch. A Morales inswinging corner from Cropper’s right finds an unmarked Alfredo Morales who made a run around an obstructed Tom Pettersson. He flicks the ball on to an uncovered Castellanos who drills a shot that looks to be way off target, but it hits Hagglund’s legs and ricochets into the net. Brenner, who again was on the near post corner of the 6-yard box, did not contest the ball, but it was a very nice delivery by Morales. Also, how is that not another own goal?
5-0, Medina 83’: Short corner from Medina to Morales. Medina picks the ball up immediately after and hits a, let’s say speculative, ball at Cropper. He pretty obviously isn’t expecting a shot from there and Medina did hit it very hard toward the top corner of the far post. We might see teams keep trying this until the FCC goalkeepers stop it.
Cropper’s organization and command of the penalty area is at least partially to blame for two of the goals, at least to my eyes. To be totally fair, he was a late addition to the starting 11 and was making his competitive debut with the team. If Przemyslaw Tyton remains out, one would expect Cropper’s level of comfort with this backline to improve. Brenner’s position at the near post and lack of involvement during the first and fourth goals also seems concerning. The zonal marking versus man-marking on set pieces debate will rage but teams have shown that can be successful doing either, or some combination of both. The system as it worked put Nick Hagglund, probably FC Cincinnati’s best player in the air, in the right position to win headers on two of the goals, which is probably how you’d draw it up on the chalkboard. Hopefully this is something that can be worked out on the training ground but it’s definitely something that will demand close attention in the coming weeks.