And just like that, the new season was upon us. With each year, the MLS preseason seems to get shorter. As a fan of the New York Red Bulls, this offseason flew by. There was so much turmoil, so many talking points, so many question marks. The kick-off Sunday night was a much needed catharsis for many New York fans. The time for what-ifs has finally ended, and the team can only stand behind the results. The first step forward, was more of a half-step, but with very a very promising start, and a few scary signs lurking just below the surface. Sit back, relax, and dig in. Red Bulls draw at SKC: Three things learned.
Red Bulls Draw At SKC: Three Things Learned
1. Midfield Might – It was no surprise that there would be some growing pains for the “Newb”-Bulls, but the length or depth of those pains does not seem to be something to fret over. Dax McCarty was active all game long in the destroyer role while Felipe Martins and Sacha Kljestan pushed higher up the field. What was previously unfamiliar however, was the immediate press the midfield fell into when possession was lost. SKC’s tendency to play from wider positions was put on ice for much of the game thanks to the work put in by the midfielders as they collapsed on and surrounded the wingers. Barring the goal conceded (which we will get to), and one great chance for Dwyer, Sporting Kansas City’s attack was forced to come centrally, and New York was able to exhibit their strength and poise while remaining compact.
2. Luis the Beast – The Red Bulls will live and die with the man between the sticks this year, much like DC United relied on Hamid a year ago. The one big issue with playing a high press game is that you become very susceptible to counter attacks. As the Toronto FC found out this weekend, any team, no matter how talented in the midfield, can be brought down by a timely through ball if they are sloppy in possession. Vancouver capitalized on their chance with debutant Rivero. For Red Bull, centerbacks Damien Perrinelle and Ronald Zubar are not fleet of foot or young, they will be giving up their share of counter attack opportunities this year. Robles is going to have to have another stellar season to keep his team from dropping points in close games. The good news, he has shown every indication over the last two years that he is capable of doing it.
3. The wings the thing – Without Thierry Henry demanding attention from opposition defenses, Bradley Wright-Phillips is now the number one priority for a backline. He will be marked in a way that he has not yet experienced in this league. In turn, he will need to open space for his team mates just as Titi had for the last four years. In doing so, Lloyd Sam, and Mike Grella/Sal Zizzo will have a lot more room to operate. I wrote about Philly’s offensive strategy last year, and it is one that the Red Bulls look increasingly likely to employ this season. BWP must serve as a pivot at the top of the attack. Hold the ball up, and dish out to the wings as support arrives and numbers can get into the attack. The trouble is, this is a facet of his game that is very weak. If he can continue to improve, Grella and Sam may be closer to the top of the Golden Boot than BWP himself.
All in all, an admirable start for a team that a lot of folks have already written off. If they can improve their distribution from the top, this will be a team that no one will want to face. Marsch is going to have to rely on his depth if he wants to see his high pressure system succeed for the long haul. That depth will be tested as early as the home opener against bitter rivals DC United, with Ronald Zubar leaving late with a hamstring injury that is currently being evaluated. Does he have the depth to do it? Only time will tell.
****DID YOU KNOW****
This is a new section I will be adding this year with random musings from analyzing stats. Hopefully overtime it will serve as a means for asking questions and further analysis.
– Roy Miller was the field player with the lowest passing percentage on the night (Just 57.89% on 57 attempts), but who were the next two biggest offenders on the team? Lloyd Sam (62.5% on 32 attempts) and Felipe Martins (66.04% on 53 attempts), both of whom were involved in the lone goal. While none of those numbers look very good, it can almost certainly be attributed to an aggressive attack. Only about one third of those errant passes were in the Red Bulls own half.
– Dax McCarty worked his butt off in his defensive role which is no surprise really. He led the team in tackles won (Tied with Roy Miller with 6), and recoveries (12).
– On the backline, both Zubar and Perinelle put in a good shift. They had a combined 7 interceptions, 18 clearances and 13 recoveries.
– BWP was shutout entirely. 0 shots. It is going to take some better work from the midfield to get him going. Grella/Sizzo (Grizzo) and Sam will need to be more dangerous to make his job easier.
– How did new boy Kljestan do? He had the second highest passing percentage on the team (81.43%) with the most attempts (70).