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CCL: New York Red Bulls Tactical Analysis vs CD Fas

In 2009, the last time the New York Red Bulls had an invitation to the CONCACAF Champions League, the club went down in a less than glorious blaze.  They failed to secure a win in their preliminary round match, and failing to make it into group play. So much for making a global impression.  This time around one has to wonder if this season isn’t a repeat of 2009 – lots of promise, and not so much MLS success, and let’s not even talk about the US Open Cup. So, there was this air of trepidation coming into this tournament – did the Red Bulls have enough depth, even securing Saer Sene via trade, and the Frenchman Damien Perinelle during the free transfer window.

On Tuesday, the Red Bulls made their mistakes, but secured a 2-0 victory, their first as a club, and earned 3 points over the El Salvador league champion Club Deportivo Fas on an absolutely gorgeous night at Red Bull Arena. Here’s what worked, and here’s what didn’t in the Red Bulls clean sheet victory.

Red Bulls Tactical Analysis vs CD Fas


Other than newcomer Saer Sene being an absolute mountain of a man, and very skilled with the ball at his feet, and Tim Cahill being Cahill, the Red Bulls sported a couple of well played performances in their first CCL victory.  Let’s start in midfield.

Peguy Luyindula was the creative pivot for most of the match, to no one’s surprise. However, as Petke stated after the match, their entire game plan, based on scouting that he and assistant Robin Fraser did prior to Tuesday’s match, was to attack the wings. In other words, they would rely heavily on Lloyd Sam to drive the offense.  Sam did his job, earning a goal on the night, his first of the tournament, was dispossessed only nine times and completed 40 of 49 passes, as shown below.

Eric Alexander, who is normally a favorite whipping boy of mine may have found his true position on the field. Petke deployed him as a central defensive midfielder this time around, instead of on the wing, or as an attacker. He finally showed some soccer intelligence, losing the ball only 8 times, and completing 72 of 79 of his passes. Two things strike me about Alexander’s play.  First, If you look at the pattern of his passes, most of them were either side to side, or forward, or even to switch fields – in other words smart playing that advanced the club’s attack.  In addition to that, Alexander regularly tracked back for the exploits of Rich Eckersley (yes, he still plays for the club, folks, and we’ll get to him in a moment), and at times even played a bit of center back to prevent counter attacks. Sure, this is was against a Salvadoran side that was playing without many of their starters because of visa issues, but Alexander nonetheless was an important cog in the machine that produced the tidy victory.

Finally, let’s talk about the back line. To be fair, the Red Bulls back line has gone from ok, to bad, to average, to awful on a match to match basis. The lone transfer window signing the Red Bulls secured was a French second division defender named Damien Perinelle. Time will tell whether this 2nd Div signing will be less Armando quality and more Bradley Wright-Phillips quality.  That said, Perinelle had somewhat of an auspicious start in New York red and white. He seemd to have better positioning than his Spanish counterpart in central defense, and even made up for some of his partners less than attractive gaffes. He showed strength in recovery, making a total of 7 successful recovery runs. Like Alexander, he very rarely made a pass back, always looking to advance the field of play as shown below. This leads me to my next point. Veteran Ibrahim Sekagaya, who I’m assuming will start vs DC United in MLS play on Sunday at RFK, has been no where close to impressive as Olave’s partner at centerback. Perinelle may be a much better option and could work his way into the MLS Starting XI.  He could conceivably do very well at a position that the Red Bulls have been lacking a solid performer all season, and that hole has been a big reason why they have followed up their Supporters Shield winning season with a an egg laying campaign that has left them on the brink of missing the playoffs. Will he see time vs DC? Maybe not, but the time is coming and Petke’s patience with the back line will understanbly wane as the playoffs near, and the matches become more and more important. Perinelle may end up saving Red Bulls coaching staff and supporters a lot of gray hairs if he’s able to develop into MLS game shape quickly and keep up the soccer smarts he showed Tuesday.


There is most likely not one working moment this season the Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh hasn’t rethought the deal that brought RB Richard Eckersley here from Toronto FC.  On paper, Eckersley should have provided the anchor on the deep wing that Mike Petke would so desperately need while perennial starter Roy Miller was away on international duty at a tiny tournament called the FIFA World Cup.  By the way, Miller had his stay extended there as his native Costa Rica mustered an impressive run. However, Eckersley just never has lived up to the challenge, flaming out early after poor play and a mystical inability to keep his hands off the ball relegated him to the bench, and finally to the reserves squad.

In post game, Cahill mentioned that players who he had never thought would play again had good showings in CCL play.  That said, Petke was understandably guarded when speaking about it, simply saying that the back four were able to clean up after themselves when mistakes were made.  Luckily, I have the luxury of not being so guarded. For the most part Eckersley and Miller, if Red Bulls were facing a more robust opponent, could have cost the club the match.  Just like Petke exploited CD Fas’ wings, the Salvadorans pressured Miller and Eckersley, who spent most of the match playing with a very high line.  Look at the two heat maps below. Eckersley and Miller basically played in midfield, nealry returning RBNY to the 1930s, with a form that looked more like a 2-5-3 than the traditional 4-4-2 Petke employs regularly.

The only saving grace here is that Eckersley at least had enough match intelligence to play a bit deeper only slightly more than Miller, who hardly ever got back behind his own 18, let alone defend in the corners. Now, again, I understand that some of this has to do with a Fas side that was on the brink of elimination a long way from home. Miller and Eckersley will not have the luxury of freelancing like this against even Montreal, who only has the CCL to look forward to this year.  It would be a lot of fun for the Canadian side to eliminate the big bad New York Red Bulls from CCL play.

That said, field positioning was not the only problem with our overly aggressive backs. Combined, Miller and Eckersley were dispossesed a grand total of 34 times.  Most of those turnovers were created in the attacking end, when they pushed forward without thinking.  Luckily, the rest of the players adjusted and tracked back to cover, including Alexander, and Luyindula to a lesser extent.

One thing is certain – possession in the back, better positioning, and more responsible play from Miller and Eckersley will be key if the Red Bulls wish to extend their still young and promising Champions League run.



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