Both managers kept their initial shapes from their first matches with Jim Brennan inserting Wataru Murofushi and Manny Aparicio into his 4-4-2 diamond, and Pa-Modou Kah rotating his central midfielders ahead of Matthew Baldisimo in a 4-3-3. This contributed to a relatively packed midfield, which in turn helped lead to a mundane first half. Both sides were unwilling to be too risky through midfield, and aside from an early Kyle Porter chance, the only real opportunities of the half came from set pieces and broken plays.
As mentioned in previous matches, when teams line up like this the deep lying midfielder is often the key. Murofushi was the player with the most time on the ball for York9 and he picked out a couple nice switches, but there weren’t too many penetrative passes through the middle. On the other side, Baldisimo had Aparicio as a natural opponent and played much safer than he did against HFX Wanderers, which meant that although he did not really turn the ball over in the first half, neither did he have the time nor the will to attempt creative and risky balls forward.
Because of the above, the only real creation from either side in open play came from the full backs combining with their teammates. In the second half, Pacific began to press more intensely and started to pepper the York9 box with dangerous crosses after overloading the wide areas. Brennan responded by bringing on Michael Petrasso for Porter. Petrasso played wide on the right while Ryan Telfer moved to left wing, giving York9 more width both in attack and defense.
After Alvaro Rivero gave York9 the lead, Kah brought on Zachary Verhoven and just like their first match moved Bustos central in 4-2-3-1. At this point, the York side were set up well to deal with this threat. Approximately ten minutes from time, Brennan made a number of substitutions to bring on fresh legs but kept his 4-1-4-1 shape. He had true wingers on each side to provide defensive support and a defensive midfielder to watch Bustos. But Pacific continued to push men forward and York sat back, allowing the bright Verhoven to win a corner that eventually led to the equalizing goal.
Twice in two matches the young Verhoven has come on to provide natural width for Kah (and to allow Bustos to move central), and twice he has significantly impacted the match positively for his side. With Victor Blasco and Bustos naturally cutting in from their wings, Verhoven offers a different problem for the opposition while allowing Pacific’s star man to play in a potentially more dangerous position.
Telfer started as a striker beside Lowell Wright, then moved to the left wing before flicking on a header to set up the opening goal. The Trinidad and Tobago international has played in almost every position in his time in MLS and the CPL, and Brennan needs to figure out where to put his most reputable player.
Without pressing high and playing with a high line, Pacific will have to create in transition, and a front three of Blasco, Bustos, and Terran Campbell has thus far not shown the ability to exploit space. We know that Kah is comfortable with the 4-2-3-1 as a Plan B, but perhaps he needs to consider it his Plan A as it will put more attacking players around each other to combine while allowing Verhoven to impact the match from the start.
Once again, the Nine Stripes struggled to create from open play. Whether Brennan persists with a narrow shape or moves to one with true wingers, he needs to find a consistent way to threaten the opposition. With York’s centre back options not appearing to be obvious candidates to play a high line, perhaps they need to rely on their attackers’ pace and power on the counter.