What Are They All About? New York Red Bulls
Is the dream over? This past weekend the Chicago Fire lost 3-1 against Toronto FC on the back of a master class from Sebastian Giovinco. Many supporters and pundits quickly jumped to the conclusion that perhaps the real Chicago Fire had finally come to the surface. However, such a drastic assumption is far too premature. As we have said from the beginning, if Chicago can hit the ten match mark averaging 1.5 points per match then they’ll be well on their way to a successful season. Was the TFC match an uber-reflection of their weaknesses? Yes. But let’s not forget that most teams in MLS struggle on the road and that Chicago was one correct handball decision away from being back in the match. Lest schizophrenia take hold, we must remember that the season is yet young. Another test against New York this coming Saturday Kick off at 6:30 CT on CSN) should help better judge whether the Process is making progress.
The key to that progress will be whether or not Chicago can snag points off of those teams that are lining up to be conference favorites, like this weekend’s opponent. This season is one of re-tooling for the Red Bulls after they finished first in the Eastern Conference last season but were humbled by Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. One way to shock the system is to deal your captain to a conference opponent, which the Red Bulls did by sending Dax McCarty to Chicago. While that will be one of the central story lines this weekend, a lot more rests on McCarty’s play than just individual pride. New York will be looking for vindication in their trusting of a younger generation while Chicago will be looking to pat themselves on the back for TAM midfield moves that have yet to be fully convincing. Will the Red Bulls put more distance between themselves and Chicago in the standings, or will Chicago prove that they belong by taking a point or three on the road? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
NYRB Form Guide (last five matches): W-W-L-L-D
Previous Result: A 2-0 home victory over Columbus Crew SC.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Robles; Lade, Collin, Long, Lawrence; Adams, Felipe; Muyl, Kljestan, Royer; Bradley Wright-Phillips
Strengths: The Red Bulls are still the Red Bulls. It may seem too simple or cliché but this New York franchise has not been completely gutted or rocked from its foundations. They were disappointed last season but have bounced back well, have yet to concede at home, and are on their way to a third consecutive home win. They may be filling in some parts of their identity but that has not been an excuse for them. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Robles are a given, but let’s see where else they will succeed.
High press and possession: If there is one thing that can be expected of a Jesse Marsch side it is that his team will attempt to press both with and without the ball. Everyone from Bradley Wright-Phillips to Aurelien Collin will be asked to close down on space and help recover possession for New York throughout the contest. They have enjoyed a majority of the possession–typically by a large margin–in all of their matches except for those against Columbus at the weekend and Atlanta in the season opener. Although possession statistics are not directly related to winning or losing matches (NYRB had 67% possession against Houston and lost 4-1), they do provide insight into how a team will attempt to get the upper hand. Their ability to dictate the match relies entirely on putting the opposition under pressure when NY doesn’t have the ball and by overrunning the opposition with quick and direct passing. On the rare occasions that New York concedes possession they have been able to keep the opposition out of dangerous areas with smart containment and a lot of hustle. As Daniel Royer said in his post-match interview Saturday, “we need to put in a lot of hard work, a lot of running, a lot of competing, and then the soccer will come”. It appears as if neither side will want to concede an inch in this one, we are truly in for a unique encounter.
We’ll Run for Days: Part of this re-vamped NYRB side is a focus on youth. The average squad age is 24 and many of the new roster additions came straight from New York’s USL II side or are long tie academy affiliates. While Marsh, Armas, and Hamlet (all former Fire family members) may have their work cut out in terms of adapting to new standards, the youthful exuberance of Adams, Long, Davis, and Etienne has shown through. There is no complacency present in this New York side due to a fear of replacement (just ask Gonzalo Veron) and that can be a powerful tool.
A change in formation: Earlier in the year Jesse Marsch lined up his charges in a 4-4-2–or more accurately a 4-2-2-2 focusing attention on clogging the midfield–which worked to varying degrees. However, amidst injuries, experimentation with different personnel, a few close results, and an overall slower start to the season than anticipated, New York switched to a 4-2-3-1 against Columbus. The result was one of their best performances of the season and a happier Sacha Kljestan who was given more control over creative proceedings in midfield. As part of this small shift in formation, the field became a bit stretched in width against Columbus and put a bit more of a defensive burden on Tyler Adams and Felipe who responded accordingly. The duo combined for 24 successful defensive interventions and helped keep a well-deserved clean sheet against a very good Columbus side. Part of this success was forcing Columbus to shoot from speculative distances and angles as they registered just two shots on target–both from the wide left side which ended up comfortably in Robles arms. Look for this same tactical approach against Chicago and their attacking three.
Sweet Home, Harrison: Although Chicago will be looking to shake off the Toronto loss and counter the MLS away from narrative, this NYRB side hasn’t lost a regular season home match at Red Bull arena since a loss to SKC last April. What’s worse is that Chicago hasn’t beaten the Red Bulls in New Jersey since May of 2014. That was the infamous 5-4 victory which included a Harrison Shipp hat trick and a Bradley Wright-Phillips hat trick, the first multi-hat trick match in MLS history. Chicago will be hopping for a similar result on Saturday, but history suggests otherwise.
Weaknesses: If you cover up New York’s home fixtures this season their season looks rather bleak. Although we realize that such an action may seem trivial, conceding eight goals in three road matches is not something New York will be too happy about. If Chicago can find a way to replicate the play of Houston, Orlando, and Seattle (all three of which found different ways to win) the may just come away with something. Let’s take a look at where New York might struggle.
Set Piece Organization: One of Chicago’s strengths over the course of this season has been to allow the strengths of their various set piece takers to shine through in un-orthodox forms of free kicks. Whether it is quick restarts that have been clearly orchestrated in practice or impromptu attempts by Schweinsteiger or Juninho, this Fire side has thrived on dead balls (you can do so even without burying every free kick into the back of the net). Luckily for them, New York seems disorganized in defending set plays. They played a tough road match almost to perfection against Orlando but they fell apart on a corner in which everyone lost their mark and Robles was boxed out by the opposition. Similarly, Houston played a short corner that caused New York to scramble in the box before Alex put a second ball onto the tip of Remick’s head for the early equalizer. The last goal in that match also came off a set piece as the wall stood motionless in the face of a Cubo Torres free kick. In reality it was not a well struck ball and Robles’ positioning of both himself and the wall needed to be questioned. If the likes of Solignac and Accam can draw fouls in this one, New York could be punished.
Force the Center Backs into Decisions: It seems that Collin and Long will be the choice center back pairing this season as Sal Zizzo has fallen in the pecking order (starting just once and making a second appearance as a RB sub) and Perrinelle has resigned to collecting a pay check from the bench. While consistency is great, long time readers will know our thoughts on Collin’s decision making capabilities and Long has shown similar tendencies. A high press works if it is orchestrated properly but if it isn’t, the backline–and the center backs in particular–are exposed. This may not be a problem for elite center backs, but Collin’s red card history alludes to rash decisions and Long’s bringing down of Houston’s Manotas in a less than dangerous situation breeds skepticism as well. Precise passing into the feet of Nikolic and a spectacular match from the Hungarian could spell the end of New York’s home winning streak. Alternatively, look for Accam to sub on as a lone forward for late drama in this one.
Missing Personnel: Gideon Baah’s broken leg is a season ending injury, Tyler Adams was given a few days off after a knock against Columbus but will return to training on Wednesday, Sal Zizzo returned to light training after a calf strain and should be available for the eighteen, and Mike Grella returned to full training with the team this week after a troublesome knee injury kept him out at the weekend. We’d expect Adams to be in the lineup but the progress of Zizzo and Grella are uncertain. Look for the same line up that faced Columbus on Saturday.
Dax McCarty: We’re not always about tactics and numbers here. Look for Dax to boss the midfield in this one while Nelson Rodriguez grins about TAM well spent. 400k will look like pocket change as the fiery ginger swings the match in Chicago’s favor.
Prediction: Paunovic will eventually have to abandon his reliance on Michael Harrington and Jorge Bava, but the switch won’t happen on the road against New York. They both start and it costs Chicago a road victory. New York 1-1 Chicago. McCarty with the goal, but will he celebrate?