Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

New York Red Bulls: How To Keep Philadelphia Off The Scoresheet

The league may have dreamed of the day when New York v. Philadelphia inspired as much hatred as a match between the former and DC United. That day still seems like a long way off. Maybe it is the lopsided results that have favored NY. With NY2 entering the league next year, that may not change any time soon. Still, the games between these clubs have generally been entertaining, but few were ever as important as the meeting this weekend.

When the Red Bulls visited Philly in July, they were entering what should have been an easy week against “lesser” competition. A win the previous weekend against Columbus in convincing fashion meant that NY had the potential to emerge from a three game stretch with 9 points. The Union were meandering towards the bottom of the table and shouldn’t, and in fact didn’t, pose much of a threat despite what the score line might have read at the end of the game. As we know, the Red Bulls emerged from that week with 4 out of 9 points. It left NY fans in a panic with RSL and New England on the horizon, not to mention a congested schedule with CCL fast approaching. The Union game was a maddening one for me to watch. The worst kind of game to watch your team lose. RBNY controlled the game from the opening whistle, but could not put the ball in the net. They were beaten on the counter, which really just means they beat themselves.

When they meet this weekend, both teams will have a lot more to play for. A 6 point swing could go a long way to determining the playoff fate of both clubs. Having to emerge from Philly with 3 points this weekend will not be easy. The Red Bulls may be without the services of BWP who is recovering from a mysterious hamstring injury which saw him removed from Wednesday’s 1-0 win against DC. Without their leading scorer, goals could be at a premium. For NY to take all 3 points, a shutout is a must. Only three teams have managed to do so this year, an impressive feat for a mediocre team (Cheap shot, I know.). Watching a great deal of highlights, I can tell you that this is much easier said than done, but it is possible.

To understand how, you must first understand how the Union play. 4-2-3-1 is a familiar formation for fans of RBNY. It has been used to great success over the last two games against strong opponents for maximum points. Philly have employed this formation for most of the season with Conor Casey at the Helm, and most recently, LeToux and Wenger manning the wing positions. Philly has been atrocious in two categories this year. Passing and possession. For all of their success over the past two months, it has never come by way of “beautiful soccer”. They have employed the gritty hard-nosed counter attack to great effect. While teams like the Red Bulls will complete about 500 passes a game, Philly generally does not top 300. Errant passes are over 100 every game. If you look at the position on the field where these passes occur you would notice that it spans the entire field. As a team that plays the counter attack, this is expected. It also explains the lack of possession. They need to draw the enemy in before they explode out on the attack.

What they do to great effect is bypass the midfield to start the attack. It is no secret the Conor Casey is a physical and imposing forward capable of holding up the ball and waiting for his teammates to transition into the attack. They do this on multiple levels on the field. The higher the backline is, the further back Casey, or whoever is playing the 9 role for the Union, will receive the ball. At this point, he dishes it out to either wing and begins his charge forward. The wings either make diagonal runs into the center or stay on the flanks and cross it in. This is text book counter attack, and they have the personnel to execute. They have struggled finishing with any consistency, and their record is a reflection of that. The Red Bulls could tell them the importance of finishing in a system like that, as they also employed similar tactics last year and led to the Supporter’s Shield. So how do you stop it?

To start, we should look at the games they had the least success over the season. I’d like to highlight one game in particular, Houston. The Union lost 2-0 and rarely looked dangerous in the game. Limiting the time the 9 had on the ball. That means the Center backs have to pressure and play physically when those passes come in. If the Red Bulls can defend from the front, this will put a lot of pressure on the midfield which has shown to be less than capable of controlling the game. The second thing, and maybe the most surprising, is that the fullbacks must join in the attack. This will force the wing players to play in deeper positions (Unless their name is LeToux. Pretty sure he doesn’t defend at all.), and slow the transition. Pressure the 9, and keep the wingers honest and in deeper positions. Both must be accomplished for this to work. Take a look at the heatmaps for the opposing fullbacks in a game where the Union won 4-2 vs a game they lost 0-2. San Jose on the left, Houston on the right.

It really is that simple. In those same games, look at the positions of whoever played opposite of LeToux in those games:

Look at the difference between those two games. Wenger/Cruz look like they weren’t even in the stadium against Houston. Chris Duvall and Miller/Oyongo will be more than capable of attacking, but they need to make sure they can cover their defensive responsibilities should a counter opportunity present itself. Philly has also been very good on set pieces this year. Having Cahill available should help minimize their impact on the game.

Keeping PU (Why doesn’t this catch on?) off the score sheet should not be a difficult task for this RB team that has played very well in the last two games, but they must make sure to defend properly and minimize mistakes.



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