What Are They All About? New York Red Bull
Well, one of the best away match performances of the season still left Chicago on a return flight home without any points. In their last match Chicago surrendered a late goal to New England which secured a 1-0 loss and ensured that Chicago’s haunting road streak continues. Luckily for the Fire their next match is at home. The opponent? An in form New York Red Bull side who might have a chance to go top of the East come the final whistle on Sunday.
Jesse Marsch and his charges will be looking to get all three points before going on a stretch of three difficult matches. A return to the CONCACAF Champions League against Antigua de Guatemala FC, a tilt against L.A and a top four Eastern conference battle against Montreal loom on the horizon. Meanwhile the Fire are looking to build some momentum and arrive at a level of consistency before an away match at RSL and the season defining U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against New England. Who will enter their tough spell with more confidence?
NYRB Form Guide (Last 5 Competitive Matches): W-D-W-D-L
Previous match: A 4-1 home win over NYCFC.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1: Robles; Zizzo, Zubar, Collin, Lade; Felipe, McCarty; Grella, Kljestan, Muyl; Bradley Wright-Phillips
Strengths: Many pundits had this NYRB side as their pick for finishing top of the East and perhaps regaining the Supporters Shield. A disappointing start to the season saw the Red Bulls lose six of their first seven matches but they have bounced back with a record 8-3-4 since then. This team is ruthless all over the pitch and Chicago will certainly have their work cut out for them. Let’s take a look where New York has thrived over the last several matches.
High Press: You see this phrase thrown around a lot in MLS, however, New York doesn’t treat it as a lofty expectation. It is indeed their game plan every time they take the pitch. In a post-match interview after their “derby” win over NYCFC, Bradley Wright Phillips was asked how his side was able to pressure the ball so much and continue to run the way they did in the blistering heat at Red Bull arena. He replied with a wry smile, “Jesse, man, he’s crazy. You’ve gotta run. If you don’t run, you don’t play”.
If that doesn’t speak for itself, the NYRB heat maps show that all ten outfield players were busy the entire match. When NYCFC got possession they were immediately closed down. If one of the three marquee DPs were on the ball then the pressure was often initiated by two Red Bull players. The Lampard, Villa, Pirlo trio was left completely ineffective, completing just 35 passes and registering two shots (both off target) between the three of them. Everyone including the lone striker and the attacking midfielders knows that the game plan only functions if everyone presses. The stray touches and dwelling on the ball in the back needs to stop for Chicago or Sunday will be ugly.
Fellowship: It may sound cliché, cheesy, tacky, etc. but this Red Bull side is cohesive. There’s no other way to put it, they are a solid side. From Ali Curtis the Sporting Director, to Jesse Marsch and the coaching staff, and amongst the squad itself, this club is getting things done right. Passion ekes from all corners of this organization, and not in a way that is forced or faked. Marsch has his players understanding the system but perhaps more importantly thriving in it. He has been given the tools to build the squad in a way that he envisioned and the players are confident, effective and having fun on the pitch.
The Red Bull organization is slowly becoming the envy of the East. The fact that they boast former Fire legends Jesse Marsch, Dennis Hamlett, and Chris Armas may explain some of the passion. Oh yeah, they also have former Fire fan favorite Tony Jouaux as the conditioning coach. A win for Red Bull and you can bet the keyboard curmudgeons will be out in full force on Monday talking about former talent.
The Spine: The strongest aspect of this squad is definitely the players that make up the core of the eleven and the spine of the squad on the pitch: Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright Phillips.
Luis Robles: The goalkeeper has quietly been one of the best keepers in MLS over the last four years. He received the Goalkeeper of the Year Award last season but has humbly kept his head down and continued working. Sunday’s match will be his 130th consecutive MLS appearance as he continues to shatter the league record. He’ll look to add to his seven clean sheets on the season against Chicago.
Dax McCarty: We haven’t included a center back to this section because it is one of the areas where New York hasn’t had consistency in personnel or performances this season but McCarty helps make up the difference. The defensive midfielder has started all twenty matches this season and has missed just nine regular season matches over the last five seasons. While 5”9 and 150 lbs. doesn’t cut the figure of an enforcer, his ability to run for 90+, his positional awareness, tackling ability and passing percentages have spoken for themselves over his career.
Over the last three matches he has only misplaced 23 out of his 168 passes… 14 of those came in the emotionally charged match against NYCFC. An 86% passing completion rate from a defensive midfielder is the standard that every squad should hope to achieve. 40 defensive contributions (successful tackles, interception, clearances, and blocks) in those matches put him among the league leader in those categories. His ginger feistiness only adds to his captaincy.
Sacha Kljestan: The owner of an all-star quality moustache, Kljestan also found himself playing in Thursday’s MLS All Star match because of his 5 goals and 12 assists on the season. We looked up his ancestry for ties to Patagonia but couldn’t find any. The USMNT regular has succeeded since his return to the States and he has served as the focal point of the NYRB side’s attacking prowess. The open spaces created by a lack of cohesion between the Fire lines will mean that Klejstan will have the freedom to shine at Toyota Park.
Bradley Wright Phillips: The preferred strike option over the last three years is once again near the top of the goal scoring charts. He is currently tied for third with Giovinco in the Golden Boot race with 11 goals, one goal behind Ignacio Piatti and two behind David Villa. While he might not reach his MLS record tying tally of 27 goals in the 2014 season, he is well on his way to matching the 17 he notched last year. BWP has a skill set that is uniquely fitted to MLS. He is a hybrid of a target forward and an advanced winger with superb ball control.
His two goals against NYCFC allude to his versatility but certainly don’t encompass all of his strengths. The first was a beautiful example of the cohesion of this Red Bull side, a counter attacking sequence full of quick one time interchanges before Kljestan found BWP who coolly put the ball in the bottom corner from inside the box. The second was an expert piece of positioning as he utilized some open space on the wing to take down a long ball ahead of the onrushing NYRB center backs before he put Josh Saunders on the ground with a fake shot and ended the sequence with a calm finish. Jonathan Campbell and Johan Kappelhoff have been great lately but even one mistake can be punished by the Englishman.
Weaknesses: Parity! Or something like that… There’s always a chance in MLS. We know that isn’t much to cling to for Fire fans but we’re just here for analysis. The reality is that chances are slim. Let’s scrape the bottom of the barrel for you.
Tired Legs: Kljestan played 40 minutes in the All Star match but his fitness levels should allow him to play on Sunday. However, NY to San Jose to NY to Chicago is not exactly an easy trek in three days and a few early tackles could put off the creator.
Aurelien Collin: The center back was acquired from Orlando City in April and has featured in eleven matches for New York since then. He’s played fairly well in those matches but he is a red card waiting to happen. 40 career yellows and 5 reds in just six seasons is not something to be proud of… His positioning, hot temperedness and lack of speed leave many viewers scratching their heads as to why he keeps getting playing time in the league. He received a yellow in the first meeting between these sides earlier this season, adding to his run of three consecutive yellows against the Fire, and has conceded a few PKs against Chicago in his time with Orlando and KC. He has shown that he can’t cope with either Accam or Igboananike over the last two seasons and should he feature on Sunday, Paunovic will undoubtedly want to pressure him early.
Away Form: There’s no way around it, Red Bull isn’t very good on the road. They have won just one match this season on their travels, the infamous 7-0 thrashing of NYCFC. Given that it was a “derby” match and that they didn’t actually have to travel you can take that result for what you will. Seven road losses are arguably the only reason that Red Bull isn’t atop the East. Chicago’s strong home form could be a stumbling block for Jesse Marsch.
Prediction: This Red Bull side is too good to lose. However, their road from and Chicago’s eight match unbeaten run at home means that Red Bull won’t win either. Chicago 1-1 New York Red Bull. Michael DeLeeuw scores for a third consecutive home match and Bradley Wright Philips continues his form.