Three Things I Noticed: RBNY Midweek Loss vs. Weekend Triumph


The Red Bulls midweek performance was a betrayal of the work they have put in over the first two-thirds of the season. It was a reminder that any game against any team can hold any result. The old adage, “the game isn’t played on paper” comes to mind. The same could be said of DC over the weekend. Table superiority (Even with games in hand.) does not guarantee success. Yet, if you were to ask any MLS fan, there would be no hesitation answering the question of which is the better team between DC and Chicago. So what happened? Like most of the articles I write, there isn’t a clear and definitive answer. Taking a look at some data from the match does paint a strong picture though. So let’s take a look at what I noticed. A tale of two games.

Three Things I Noticed: RBNY Midweek Loss vs. Weekend Triumph

  • Passing

Look at the two passing charts above. What do you notice? I can tell you the first thing that sticks out to me. Almost all of the failed passes were passes forward. The completed passes on the other hand were nearly all lateral or backwards. It isn’t a coincidence that the Red Bulls only managed two goals, both as a result of set pieces. Simply put, the Red Bulls could not attack against the fire. Now take a look at the charts against DC:

What else do you notice? How about the concentration of successful passes. Against DC, you can barely see the middle of the field. What does this tell us? For one, and it is quite obvious, NY owned the middle of the field against their rivals. Two? There are 3 numbers that dominate the failed passes in Chicago in the middle of the field: 16 (Kljestan), 11 (McCarty), and 8 (Felipe). The most important pieces of the puzzle this year have been those three players stationed in the middle of the field. Their failure is catastrophic to the team. The team might be the star for the Red Bulls, but the trio in the middle are the ones who should be earning the plaudits.

Kljestan specifically had a howler in the Windy City. He attempted 60 passes on the night, and completed just 37. Those are numbers fit for Juan Pietravallo, not the pseudo number 10 Red Bull fans had been so excited for this year. The Red Bulls completed just 4 key passes on the night and completed 54% of their passes in the final third.

Against DC, Kljestan had a phenomenal game that might even be his best to date for the club. On his 72 attempts, he completed 59 passes, 6 Key Passes and registered an assist. Again, he was not alone in this success. The Red Bulls had a combined 9 key passes and completed 72% in the final third. Not only did they complete more passes, and they did so on a greater number of attempts (176/125). It is clear, that as Kljestan goes, so does this team’s attack.


  • Positioning

A casual observer could tell you that Damien Perrinelle is not a fast player. I’m sure the palyer himself would be willing to admit the same. So how is it, that this lumbering player has been able to contain much faster attacking players throughout the year? The answer, positioning. Ok, I gave it away in the title of this section, so don’t applaud yourself too much. Positioning is the most important attribute for a centerback. It is the reason that undersized, or slower defenders can be so successful. Perrinelle cuts down angles better than most defenders in the league. Combined with his ability to play with the ball at his feet and his physicality, he has become a force to reckon with on the Red Bulls backline. While Kljestan may have been missing while playing against Chicago, Perrinelle’s absence was felt to a greater degree. Ronald Zubar may have come off as having a good day on the stat sheet against the Fire, he was instrumental in creating all three of the Fire’s goals. Let’s take a look:

Exhibit A

Here we see Zubar stepping up to pressure the offensive player after a Mike Grella turnover. But what else do you see? For one, Wallace and Felipe are in the same field space. That means two other players were already on it. Zubar has a choice to make, drop back and look to contain Igboananike, or continue stepping into an already crowded area of the field. He chooses the latter.

Miazga is left on an island. Sure Igboananike finishes the chance, but David Accam is also in on goal with only Miazga defending. Zubar allowed Chicago to remove 3 players from defense and put their best offensive player in on goal in a 2v1.

Exhibit B

Zubar is man to man with Patrick Nyarko. As the ball approaches, he inexplicably peels off his man and follows the ball wide to double team Gilberto.

Nyarko drifts inside. Dax McCarty begins to mark him, but loses him in the box. Zubar unbalnces the backline yet again by drifting into space and leaving his partner, or teammates in a bad situation. Okay, last one:

Exhibit C

This one is a bit of a team effort. The ball comes over the top, and naturally, Zubar moves into the space to close down the attacker who is now in alone on goal. But what happens next. Zubar doesn’t move in to challenge, he stops and backs off the player in an attempt to cover the blindside.

The problem is, leaving your zone as a defender to close down in a situation like this is an all or nothing move. If you do not challenge for the ball, you allow the attacking team to basically run an option play. Dribble into the space they allow and shoot, or pass to your now wide open teammate. Accam chooses the latter.

Now do yourself a favor, go back and watch the game against DC. Pay particular attention to Damien Perrinelle, not just when he has the ball, but when he doesn’t. DeLeon’s first shot in the 26th minute might be the best example. Kitchen passes the ball across to DeLeon who is about 25 yards from goal. Saborio is between Miazga and Perrinelle. If Perrinelle steps forward to challenge DeLeon, he risks leaving Saborio in the box 1v1 with Miazga and double the operating space. Instead, he recognizes that Dax is closing down the space and stays at home. It forces DeLeon to shoot from distance. While the winger has proved deadly from outside of the box in the past, it is a low percentage shot, and Perrinelle knows this. While the defense was put under considerable pressure thanks to midfield turnovers in Chicago, had the read the game better, it would not have mattered to the final score.

  • Aggression

This one is short, but sweet. Like the first problem, this one is focused in the midfield. This time however, the blame is squarely on the shoulders of Dax and Felipe. Dax has been tremendous all year in two categories, Interceptions and Recoveries. Not surprisingly, he leads the team in both. As I have mentioned time and again, Felipe has been nipping at his heels in both categories. In Chicago, they combined for one of their worst defensive performances of the year. A total of 7 recoveries between them. How bad is that number? NYC’s Andrea Pirlo and Andrew Jacobson had 8 recoveries between them against LA in their 5-1 loss. By contrast, in Sunday’s win, Felipe had 5 recoveries and 4 interceptions all by himself. Dax? He had 13 recoveries on the night. Two of the three goals against DC were a result of high pressure forcing turnovers and allowing the team to transition into attack. When that part of the New York Red Bulls game fails, it is good night offense.

It has been a long time off for me writing these things I noticed columns, but I promise to back on a more regular basis. We have to wait a week until the next Red Bull game, and it will be a strong test as they can exact revenge on a team that thoroughly embarrassed them midweek. Here’s to hoping they have learned their lessons.


  • The player with the lowest pass percentage for the Red Bulls starters was Kemar Lawrence who completed 77% of his passes. The 5 midfield players completed 84% combined with Loyd Sam having the best of the group with 90%.
  • BWP has now moved into a third all-time franchise goals scored. He now has 46 goals in total for the club, passing Clint Mathis who less than a decade ago was first on the list. He has since been passed by JPA and Henry. BWP is just six goals away from tying Henry, and will likely do so with 30+ less games than the Frenchman.
  • BWP is also number 2 out of the top 5 goal scorers in the league in two categories. Shots per goal (16%), and shots on goal per goal (34%). He is second to Robbie Keane who is a complete freak (26% and 50%). Seriously, that is insane. Point is, we are getting great value from a man who was supposed to be finished without his famous partner.
  • Matt Miazga is 2nd out of all of the defenders in the league for clearences per 90 with 7.4. Only Emanuel Pogatetz is better with 7.5 and he has place 200 less minutes.
  • Below, you’ll find a chart of Teams in the East and their expected finish based on PPG broken down to Home/Away + East/West and games remaining. Red Bulls are in a good spot to finish top of the table, and win the shield. Tough stretch coming up will make all the difference in the world. Home to Chicago, and then away to Portland and New England.


Eastern Conference PTS PPG H East PPG A East Total E PPG H West PPG A West Total W GR H East GR A East GR H West GR A West xPPG Finish
D.C. United 44 2.44 1.10 1.77 1.60 0.75 1.18 3 2 0 1 11.18 55.18
New York Red Bulls 42 2.57 1.56 2.06 1.60 0.50 1.05 5 3 0 1 17.91 59.91
Columbus Crew SC 41 1.89 1.00 1.44 2.20 1.00 1.60 3 4 0 0 10.67 51.67
Toronto FC 37 2.29 1.20 1.74 1.50 0.75 1.13 5 2 1 1 16.88 53.88
New England Revolution 37 2.00 1.00 1.50 2.00 0.60 1.30 4 4 0 0 13.00 50.00
Orlando City SC 29 1.10 0.50 0.80 1.50 1.60 1.55 2 4 1 0 8.20 37.20
New York City FC 28 1.64 0.89 1.26 0.25 0.33 0.29 1 3 1 2 6.44 34.44
Montreal Impact 28 1.00 1.00 1.00 2.40 0.00 1.20 4 4 0 3 9.00 37.00
Philadelphia Union 27 1.10 0.89 0.99 1.75 0.25 1.00 2 3 1 1 8.09 35.09
Chicago Fire 27 1.78 0.57 1.17 1.20 0.20 0.70 3 5 0 0 10.90 37.90