What Are They All About? New York Red Bulls
Momentum Lost. While results on Decision Day went in Chicago’s favor, earning them a home leg in the knock out round on Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls (7:30 CT on FS1), their own fixture ended in defeat to Houston. The conditions where hot and humid but that should not be an excuse for the display, or lack thereof, from the Fire. An uncharacteristically poor match from Dax McCarty, a failure to impress on the part of Richard Sanchez, and another reiteration of a lack of creativity in midfield characterized the match. A win could have seen them earn a much-needed bye week to recover adequately from the fatigue of travel but more importantly allow Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Accam more recovery time. Instead, they’ll have a quick turnaround which will afford them just one full training day to prepare for Jesse Marsch and his charges.
The Red Bulls won’t have the luxury of having much rest either, returning from DC on Sunday evening afforded them just a day and a half to prepare before leaving for Chicago on Tuesday evening. It’s been an up and down month for New York and they’ll have a lot to prove given that they finished as close to a home match as they did to being outside of the playoffs. However, Jesse Marsch and the likes of Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright Phillips, Felipe, and Luis Robles have the playoff experience that Chicago is desperately lacking heading into this fixture. If there is anything that MLS has taught its viewers over the last few seasons, it’s that it doesn’t matter where you finish in the playoff seeding. Mentality, determination, and grit shine through in the post season. Does Chicago have what it takes in what will be a maiden late October voyage for most of its squad, or will New York defy expectations in the Windy City rain? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
NYRB Form Guide (last five league matches): W-D-W-L-D
Previous Result: A 2-1 away victory over DC United.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Robles; Zizzo, Murillo, Escobar, Lawrence; Muyl, Bezecourt; Duka, Keita, Etienne; Veron
Strengths: This is the third meeting between these two sides this season with New York winning the first meeting at Red Bull Arena in April and then earning a draw at Toyota Park in September. Over the course of those two meetings we saw New York’s ability to be productive in possession, an explosive ability to counter through their front four, tactical brilliance from Jesse Marsch, and set piece ability as strengths. None of those aspects have dissipated from the Red Bull’s game, let’s see where they’ll add to those positives.
Fresh as Daisies: While both teams traveled at the weekend, that fact must be taken with a grain of salt for New York. The Red Bulls had the luxury of knowing they would finish in sixth place no matter the outcomes of the Decision Day fixtures. Jesse Marsch took full advantage by leaving Bradley Wright Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, Daniel Royer, Aaron Long, and Damien Perrinelle in New Jersey. Connor Lade, Tyler Adams, and Felipe found themselves on the bench and the latter two saw few minutes against DC, meaning that Marsch’s preferred starting eleven will be well rested on Wednesday. While there is a sense of wanting to be in form and having rhythm when entering the playoffs, two nights of adequate rest is not ideal preparation. There will be an extra spring in the step of a team that can already get the best of you in terms of speed.
Relax, I’ve Done This Before: If there is one worrisome statistic for the Fire heading into Wednesday’s encounter it is that their entire roster has combined for just 3,814 minutes in the postseason across their careers. Worse yet, all of those minutes have come from Dax McCarty, Juninho, and Arturo Alvarez. Should Juninho not be fit for Wednesday, that total drops to just 2,110 minutes. When you get into difficult situations there is a sense of calm that comes from experience and the Red Bulls 5,959 post-season minutes spread across twelve players should provide some comfort. Sacha Kljestan spoke about experience being a key factor in Wednesday’s fixture when asked about any edge the Red Bulls might have. Additionally, the Red Bull captain stipulated that their necessity to play a majority of their Open Cup matches away from home this season has allowed the squad to overcome adversity in unfamiliar environments. We’re not saying it is a game changer, but given that Dax McCarty and Veljko Paunovic stressed the importance of experience at the Fire’s training session on Monday, it has to count for something.
The Wonderkid: We’ve brought it up time and time again in our previews of Jesse Marsch but he is a difference maker. We always seem to find ourselves bringing up his tactical ability, his man management skills, and his knowledge of the American soccer landscape. There isn’t a coach who has done more with less in this league, consistently making the playoffs with an ownership group that has not exactly been generous with transfer funds. His ability to put the academy system on the same page as the first team has seen a unique ability to pull from their youth ranks on a consistent basis (the comfort of letting McCarty go to Chicago was facilitated by the academy’s success). This aspect of his management has also injected a “youthful fearlessness”, as Marsch puts it, into his side which he hopes will give them an edge against a somewhat cagey Chicago side that has a lot of pressure on their shoulders.
Furthermore, his understanding of the league’s ability to generate multipurpose outside backs, strong goal keepers, and dynamic holding midfielders has allowed him to fill those positions on the cheap, targeting the weak spots of clinical strikers, creative midfielders and strong center backs from outside the league with other MLS mechanisms. His understanding of the technical aspect of the game has seen him make up for any lack in ability by hiding weaknesses and ensuring that the opposition is affected mostly by the Red Bulls' strengths. The flexibility of New York’s formation and lineup up was covered extensively in both of our previous renditions of the Red Bull preview and Marsch has been at it again. The early switch from a 4-2-2-2 to a 4-3-3 was discussed as a corrective to his given personnel. Most recently, this flexibility was put on display by shifting to a 4-2-3-1 to accentuate the abilities of a younger, quicker reserve team against DC. The switch paid dividends as the Red Bulls spoiled the atmosphere of DC’s last match at RFK on the back of two goals that featured bursts of speed in build-up play.
Lastly, Marsch’s ability to get the best out of his players is uncanny. The win against DC this weekend with a short-handed lineup was no easy task. The United players were playing for pride, defending their stadium for the very last time, and let’s be honest, were also playing for their jobs. Marsch was able to put out a side of players whose chances have been limited this season but told them to prove to him that they deserve a place in his playoff squad. He hasn’t been afraid to bench complacent starters and reward players for good substitute appearances and hard work in training. He has an entire eighteen that will be motivate for Wednesday and that can’t be a bad thing.
Weaknesses: As the Fire approach this Red Bull side, it must be remembered that they have struggled at times throughout the season. The last time these two sides met came amidst a nine-match streak in which the Red Bulls did not win a single game and they’ve won just two of their last twelve. Weaknesses have included late game mental lapses, rookie mistakes from the rookies, and an inability to fix areas of need in the transfer window. Let’s see where else they might struggle on Wednesday.
We Don’t Like Playing in October: For as much as we touted the Red Bull’s playoff experience above, the fact remains that they have not had much success in the post-season of late. Back to back Conference Final appearances in 2014 (a loss to New England) and 2015 (a loss to Columbus) is the best they have to show for seven consecutive seasons in the post season. All of the other appearances came short at the Conference Semi-final stage and New York is still in search of its first MLS Cup. Although their continual appearances speak to consistency, there is also something to be said about a lack of delivering in the late stages of the season. When you add the cold and wet weather anticipated for the fixture dampening New York’s style of play, it could be another short post season for the Red Bulls.
MLS Defending: We won’t spend too much time on this point because our readers should be familiar with it, but this Red Bull side just cannot figure out their center back chemistry. They’ve tallied just three clean sheets in their last fifteen matches and have a tendency to give up goals from within the box. If you’re Nemanja Nikolic, then you’ve got to be enjoying the prep video for this encounter. Marsch will need to fly to Salzburg and knock on some beautifully finished Austrian doors in the offseason to fix this glaring gap, but for now the transfer window is closed…
McCarty’s Revenge: Although we hate to bring it up in every New York preview, we can’t help ourselves this time. This past offseason was defined by Chicago’s ability to bolster its midfield with the addition of New York’s former captain. It shattered Allocation Money records, it shattered McCarty’s settled life, and it shattered the hearts of Red Bull supporters. Wednesday’s match will provide an opportunity for vindication of making the move for Marsch, or it could prove to be an occasion for McCarty to remind the Red Bulls of what they have been missing. A poor performance from the midfielder against Houston will also add motivation to play well in a side where he is viewed as the leader.
Die Rückkehr: At long last the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger. In what could be his last match in a Chicago jersey the German will likely suit up to start the match against the Red Bulls. Although he is not yet back to full fitness, having completed just two full training sessions in the last month, there is no way Schweinsteiger does not make an impact in this match. We spoke about the presence that playoff experience brings and Schweinsteiger brings World Cup Final and Champions League final experience to the table. If there is anyone that can calm the match down and keep Sacha Kljestan at bay it will certainly be him. Similarly, if the German star is to in fact vie for a return to Chicago for next season at a similar wage (allegedly a stumbling block in negotiations thus far) then a deep playoff run might be a way to force management’s hand. Either way, look for him to do something special on Wednesday.
Prediction: In the spirit of playoffs we will not be providing a prediction. Logic is bound up in emotion and our hearts are intertwined with our minds. Please provide your own prediction below. If this turns out to be our last preview of the season, it has been a true pleasure on our end.