There are no two ways about it. New York City FC’s meltdown on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls was one of the most embarrassing and least forgivable performances in MLS history.
That NYCFC got blanked 7-0 at home in a derby is shocking enough, but the manner of the team’s capitulation only served to compound horrors.
The Pigeons conceded four times from corner kicks – a feat no other MLS team has achieved or even approached since the league started tracking the stat in 2003. To make matters worse, two of those goals were scored by the 5’9″ Red Bull captain Dax McCarty.
NYCFC could barely string two passes together. Frank Lampard came on as a substitute for his season debut, got booed, and then infuriated supporters with another series of achingly tone-deaf comments after the match.
It was an absolute meltdown. Period. But as a number of NYCFC players – and manager Patrick Vieira – said after the game, one bad performance isn’t going to sink the club’s entire season.
But something else is threatening to do just that. Home form.
A third of the way into the season, the numbers don’t lie. NYCFC has picked up ten points from six road games, and just seven points from seven home matches. It’s a points-per-game split that no other team in MLS even comes close to approaching.
The logic in MLS goes that if a team doesn’t pick up around two points per game at home, it’s hard to make the playoffs. So NYCFC, despite sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, is already fighting an uphill battle to make their first postseason appearance.
So why hasn’t New York City played well at home? Certainly, the club’s struggles in March and April had plenty do with Vieira’s growing pains. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Yankee Stadium’s bandbox dimensions are ill suited to the way NYCFC is equipped to play.
A viewing of the club’s recent successes – wins at DC United and Portland, and a draw last Wednesday at Toronto – suggests several patterns.
One is that NYCFC want to possess. They want to control games through their midfield, and have a will to play out of the back also unrivaled around the league. The system Vieira has settled on – something of a 4-3-3 – works best when NYCFC is controlling possession.