What Are They All About? New York Red Bull Preview
Goose egg. No, that is not a misspelling of Chicago Fire newcomer John Goossens. It is the number of points that Chicago came away with in their last match. As it happens it is also the number of goals scored in that match, and most worryingly the number of shots that Chicago had on target. It was perhaps the worst match of the season thus far in terms of the style and tactics that was promised but the Fire will not have much time to reflect on the result. The last stop of their three match road trip looms as they look to take on the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday evening (6:30 on CSN Plus).
The Red Bulls are themselves coming off of an embarrassing loss to long time rivals DC United and have a New York “derby” match to look forward to at the weekend. The match against Chicago is sandwiched in between but it will not be taken lightly by the Red Bulls. It serves as an opportunity to bounce back from a bad result and build momentum heading into a must win match. The stakes are becoming higher as the pack at the top of the East begins to separate and neither team will want to be left behind.
Long before the starting whistle this match has been billed as a thriller with New York thriving in attack and doing well in possession while Chicago has at times shown great stubbornness at the back but typically concedes possession. Will Chicago finally find its shooting boots against one of the league’s worst defensive units, or will New York’s attacking prowess continue the Fire’s landslide into irrelevancy?
New York Form Guide (Last Five Matches): L-D-W-W-L
Previous Match: A 2-0 Away loss to DC United.
Formation in the Last Match: 4-4-2 (a slight deviation from their typical 4-2-3-1): Robles; Lawrence, Collin, Duvall, Zizzo; Grella, McCarty, Felipe, Kljestan; Wright-Phillips, Veron
Strengths: Looking at the table won’t do you any favors in preparing for a Red Bull strengths section this season. With just ten points from eleven matches played they are the closest team to Chicago’s 0.78 PPG average. However, New York has been off to an atypical poor start and Jesse Marsch has been upfront and honest about that. There are many positives to build on and as alluded to above, the Fire’s defensive trajectory over the last four matches will be an open invitation for some of New York’s attackers to flourish. Let’s take a look.
“The Match Will Be Played on Our Terms”: That quote comes from Marsch’s midweek press conference. While this may seem like a very smug approach to a match, statistically speaking, Marsch is not overstepping his bounds. The Red Bulls have out-possessed their opponent in all but two matches this season and have done so in every one of their home matches. In those home matches they average 62% of the possession. Red Bull arena is not an easy place to go and control a match, especially given the Fire’s propensity for lack of possession and not being able to string together passes. Marsch and company know that they will largely be able to dictate the pace and style of the match.
You’ve Got a Pretty Midfield: When you look at the successful passes, key passes, successful crosses and possession heat map of the likes of Felipe, Loyd Sam, Dax McCarty, Mike Grella and Sascha Kljestan it looks more like a Jackson Pollock painting than it does a stats sheet. A passing accuracy averaging at nearly 78% and 10.2 key passes per home match should be early warning signs, especially if Veljko Paunovic starts Joao Meira and Brandon Vincent again.
There have been times for New York where they have failed to finish their chances (they only scored in 1 of their first five matches) but there haven’t been many moments where they have failed to create. Khaly Thiam and Matt Polster will be asked to break up play whenever they can but that will be a tough task given the midfield opposition. A quick glance back at the match against FC Dallas will show you that even when the out and out forwards struggled, the midfielders finished their own chances. Clinical finishes from Sam, Kljestan, Grella and Felipe led to the 4-0 rout. The Red Bulls have also mustered 118 shots in eleven matches, almost twice the amount that the Fire have in nine. They put 50% of their shots on target averaging 5.3 SOG per game while Matt Lampson gives up a goal every 5.45 SOG. That will be an interesting statistic to watch for sure. Could we see the return of Sean Johnson in this match?
The understanding among the midfield five over the course of the last five games has been impeccable. There have been a few match scenarios where the flow in transition looks almost video game-esque with intricate triangles forming seemingly at random and overlapping runs being made as perfectly as the connecting passes. If the midweek bounce back promised by the staff and players happens you can bet it will materialize in the midfield.
Luis Robles: It may seem counterintuitive to put a GK in the strengths section given their standing in the table. However, Luis Robles has tallied 33 key saves in the last eleven matches. He has reached almost half of last year’s tally with just a third of the season in the books. He has been the only bright spot in the back line and has been an actual example of a keeper that can distribute.
Leadership: Aside from Jesse Marsch New York also has Chris Armas and Denis Hamlett on the bench. That is a group that knows what it takes to succeed in MLS and you can bet that if anyone can turn that ship around it is them. Perhaps it is a sense of nostalgia arising or perhaps it is the actuality of talent, either way this match will be one to watch in terms of character building.
Desperation: If this seems like a reoccurring strength it’s because we saw it last Saturday with New England. Marsch used the word “desperate” himself in the presser and it is not an exaggeration. If New York fails to win in both the Wednesday match against Chicago and in the emotionally charged and unpredictable match against NYCFC on Saturday, they could potentially be rooted to the bottom of the standings with the Copa America break on the horizon. We know the old adage is “we’ll take it one game at a time” but the above scenario is unthinkable given the success of the last few seasons and the Red Bulls will do everything in their power to avoid it. Chicago has not been brilliant be any stretch of the imagination and New York will be looking to pounce on this opportunity. It could get ugly folks.
Weaknesses: You do not get to use desperation as a strength unless there are some serious flaws with you team. New York is less than a shell of its former self. A team that won the Supporters’ Shield twice in the last three seasons has been absolutely humbled during this campaign. A roster that should seemingly have most opponents cowering has failed to deliver when it counts and the defensive woes of New York are beyond the comical stage and quickly spiraling into disaster. If Chicago had any type of offensive form going into this match then the Fire would have a field day, perhaps they’ll finally click on the day and punish a woeful New York backline. Let’s take a look at what has been troubling them.
“Are you sure you want the Frenchman with a bad attitude, a knack for red cards and a high salary?”: Having registered just one clean sheet this season the Red Bulls have found themselves in dire straits indeed. They secured a transfer for want away Orlando center back Aurelien Collin earlier this month in hopes that they could fix some of their issues. Collin and Ronald Zubar both speak French which the Red Bulls think that will help some of the communication at the back.
However, it seems to be more than just a communication or personnel issue. There have been eight different defensive line ups used by Marsch this season and none of them seem to be working. The Red Bulls have allowed twenty goals in eleven matches this season and the trend that Collin was supposed to fix continued after his arrival. The Frenchman slotted in immediately against his former team and then again against DC, two matches which saw a total of three goals allowed. The DC match was perhaps the most telling of the last several matches as far as defensive errors.
The first goal of the match came from a simple yet perfectly weighted Patrick Nyarko through ball to Marcelo Sarvas who squared it to Alvaro Saborio for a tap in. Ball watching seems a bit too active of a description to apply to the New York defenders on that play. The second goal of the match saw Saborio return the favor with a beautiful cross to the back post which Nyarko slammed home. Again the defenders where nowhere to be found on the cross or the finish.
In the 1-1 draw against Orlando a sloppy give away and a counter attack led to OCSC’s equalizer. The back line all crashed in centrally on Cyle Larin and the confusion of duties saw the flanks wide open as Kevin Molino made a late run to slot home on the play. It was the only chance put away but it most certainly wasn’t the only chance created due to a lack of defensive pressure. Kaka, Rafael Ramos and Larin all saw open shots expertly blocked by Robles in the match.
Even in the one sided match against Dallas, Robles had to come to the rescue of his back line on a few occasions and a glaring miss from Tesho Akindele saved NY’s blushes while their lead was still at two. As good as the midfield has been, the defense has been more than bad. Marsch may have to ask his midfielders to pick up some defensive duties until the back line can get it together.
Pressure: The other side of desperation is pressure and NY will be facing a fair share of it. Throw in the fact the Chicago is getting beyond desperate and possibly, despite their own situation, New York may underestimate a team that has become the league’s punching bag, and you have a volatile situation.
Prediction: At the beginning of this road trip we predicted that Chicago would get one point of the available nine. Even that seems out of reach now. Chicago should worry about registering a shot on target before it can think about drawing a match, much less winning one. We’re out of ideas for the prediction section. Igboananike will work hard but the rest is a crap shoot. Feel free to offer predictions below.