An interesting match ended even after York9 FC fought back from a two goal deficit thanks to a formation change and set pieces.
Both teams press high
Each side had a game plan of pressing their opposition high up the pitch and they both did it effectively. Pacific FC, in particular, used their wingers to target York9’s outside centre backs. The purpose of this press wasn’t simply to force York9 into long balls, but to win the ball very high up the pitch in dangerous areas, which the hosts managed to do a few times in the first half.
Jim Brennan’s side also pressed high and they found much success, as well. Pacific FC tried to play through the middle at times, but that area was often bypassed in favour of long clearances in order to avoid losing the ball, although some of the clearances from Pacific’s centre backs were poor and led to good chances for York9.
This led to an odd first half where both teams were more dangerous without the ball, and where the midfield areas was continually bypassed. There were rare times where the press was avoided which led to good chances for either side. For York9 it was when Dan Gogarty moved forward into space after an over zealous attempt to win the ball to play a one-two, while for Pacific FC it was when Mark Village found Jose Hernandez in a pocket between centre back and full back. The latter opportunity led to the Ben Fisk goal and was remarkably simple: one pass from a winger to another after receiving it from his keeper.
Centre backs for either side unable to break through
A big problem for both teams was the fact that none of their centre backs were comfortable moving the ball forward. While credit must be given to the way both teams pressed, none of the five centre backs on the pitch are of the ball playing variety. For Pacific FC this is a problem because a strength of theirs appears to be their technical midfield, especially with Noah Verhoeven forward as the attacking midfielder. For York9 this is such an issue because they play with three centre backs, and if none of them can pass effectively or step forward when in possession, they are effectively playing down a man (or three) when they have the ball.
Both sides had big target men which may have been expected to relieve the pressure, and while both had their moments resetting play, the truth is that the pressing was so intense in the first half and the passing so poor, that neither striker was able to get near the ball much of the time.
York9 switch to a back four at half time
Midfielder Emilio Estevez came on for central defender Justin Springer at half time, and York9 immediately dealt with Pacific’s press much better. Brennan changed the shape from a 3-4-2-1 to a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1, and Pacific’s wingers now no longer had an obvious man to press.
Often times managers will decide on a back three or a back four based on the number of attackers the opposition uses, with the idea being that you want a spare man at the back. If the opposition plays with two strikers then you may play with a back three, while if they play with one striker and two high wingers, then you play with a back four. This spare man can also be used in possession, as York9 showed in this match. Whereas in the first half both Fisk and Hernandez essentially man marked Springer and Gogarty while Marcus Haber lined up against Luca Gasparotto, in the second half the Pacific wingers had to pick up the opposition’s full backs, which left one of the centre backs free against Haber.
This shape also had other benefits for York9. Wataru Murofushi was able to drop deeper to pick up the ball while putting him closer to Verhoeven when defending, and it allowed Manny Aparicio to also come deeper where he didn’t have to move outside the team’s shape to get on the ball. Probably the biggest ancillary benefit for the visitors was that it moved Rodrigo Gattas to a wider position on the right where he was appeared much more comfortable.
The match was a bit of a weird one in the first half where not a lot of traditional soccer was played due to each side pressing so effectively. What it did mean was that when a team did break the press of the other side then they often had a dangerous opportunity. It also meant that set pieces were going to be the best source of offensive chances for either team.
York9 FC played much better in the second half when they moved to a back four to deal with Pacific FC’s high press. This is encouraging because targeting York9’s centre backs when they have the ball seems like an easy plan against Brennan’s side. The fact that he has a plan B bodes well for his team going forward, and based on how the rest of the team functioned it is fair to wonder if it should be their plan A.
Pacific FC played with Noah Verhoeven as their attacking midfielder and he looked fairly dangerous near the opposition’s goal. The key will be getting him the ball in those areas as they often looked poor building from the back. Lukas MacNaughton, Ryan McCurdy, and even Mark Village (beyond the one pass to Hernandez that led to the second goal, admittedly) appear completely ineffective at moving the ball forward and splitting the lines. If Michael Silberbauer insists on playing this shape and style, and it certainly seems he does based on his decision making so far, he needs to find a better way to build from the back, else York9’s blue print of a high press will frustrate the islanders.