RBNY v Columbus: Three Things I Noticed

Jozy Altidore. Clint Mathis. Dave van den Bergh. Dane Richards. John Wolyniec. Juan Pablo Angel, Dima Kovalenko. Todd Dunivant. What do these names have in common? They were all on the New York Red Bulls roster the last time the team took 7 points from their first 3 games of the year. That was nearly a decade ago, and the squad was coached by Bruce Arena. Bruce has gone on to better days in sunny SO-CAL, and the Red Bulls have endured many bumps in the road on their way to the tying their best start since “The Rebrand”. Red Bull has had its fair share of critics this offseason, but through all of the anger and confusion, fans might be witnessing an actual rebirth of the long suffering Metro team they clamor for. Jesse Marsch and Ali Curtis might turn out to be the best thing that has ever happened to the team. Although it is still early days, and fast starts are almost never rewarded in MLS, the team is playing soccer with grit and finesse. Forging an identity that encompasses the fan perception of the Mike Petke era of the team that never truly stuck during his tenure. Columbus stood before the New York Red Bulls as a test. A benchmark for the early season to see what they were truly capable of doing. From where I am sitting, they passed with flying colors. RBNY v Columbus: Three Things I Noticed.

  1. Defense forward

The loss of Thierry Henry was predicted to be the potential undoing of this team. After all, the legendary player worked his magic for years in Harrison. He could turn the game a moment of brilliance that would leave the opposition speechless. He was greatly credited as the main reason NY’s prolific goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips was able to tie the MLS record with 27 goals in a season. Offensively, Henry could be a beacon, but defensively….

Henry did play defense, occasionally, but his aging legs were never seen putting in a Dax McCarty-esque shift. Often times, it unbalanced the team. When opposing teams could start attacks from the back, you had one less player applying pressure. In turn, that puts the defenders and midfielders at a disadvantage. Jesse Marsch spoke of his high pressure game plan several times during the offseason, and this is yet another game that helps prove its merits. Both goals against Columbus came from pressuring the back line into making mistakes. If you put the defenders under pressure, it makes the midfielders work harder to make themselves available. The system smothers attacks and forces the other team to keep up. It is a system that would not have worked with older players like Henry, or even Luyindula. At least not for a full season. That is not to say this system is without its faults, but for right now it is working wonders.

  1. Swapping parts

The Red Bulls have successfully started all three games this year with a different lineup. This is due, in part to injury, and international absence. The Red Bulls haven’t skipped a beat. Three different players (Roy Miller, Kemar Lawrence, and Anthony Wallace) have started at Left Back for the Red Bulls this year, and all three have put in terrific shifts. I think some of this can be chalked up to the system being deployed, but scouting and wise money management have put the team in very good shape.

One of the most important factors to having a team with interchangeable parts is having leaders on all levels of the field. The backline is bolstered by having Damien Perrinelle playing at an elite level so far. His lack of speed has been exposed at times, but he has shown positional smarts, which is almost more important at times than the ability to purely recover. Jaimeson Olave was very good at recovering, but lacked positional sense and it got the Red Bulls into trouble at times over the last two years, especially in the air. This past week he led all Red Bull defenders in interceptions and recoveries. That’s what I call leading from the back. Matt Miazga looks quite settled as well. Whether his development is from his growing experience or playing next to a natural leader like Perrinelle, it is hard to say. One thing is for certain though, the Red Bulls depth, questioned before the start of the season, is much better than anyone assumed.

  1. Opposing forces

Early I spoke about the merits of the high pressure system Jesse Marsch has installed, but it is not without its faults. When it fails, it has the potential to catastrophically fail. The Red Bulls are not coughing up a ton of goals, but they are rolling the dice. So far this season they are averaging 15 shots against per game. While Luis Robles has done well so far to keep the team out of trouble, he should not be having his number called so often. To be fair, a lot of those chances are off target, but not every team they face will have those issues. When the Red Bulls lose possession against teams that are more capable of one touch, quick, short passes, they could be in a world of hurt. SKC for all intents should have beaten the Red Bulls, but Dom Dwyer is lacking his scoring touch right now. While the same can’t be said for DC or Columbus, it is a worry that will surely be in the back of my mind during close games this season.

The Red Bulls fast start this year means that, for now at least, we can continue to focus on the silver linings, but there is still plenty of work to be done. The upcoming bye week (The second one in this young season.) will give the Red Bulls the chance to heal up and focus on a trip to RFK looking to repeat their home success in the second of three meetings with DC United this year. Whether Ronald Zubar and Roy Miller are back and ready to start is still unknown, but as this team has shown, that may be a non-factor.

 

***DID YOU KNOW***

  • The juxtaposition of Sal Zizzo’s final touch before his substitution, and Mike Grella’s first was almost too perfect. Zizzo fired with power from distance with a shot that may have hit the moon. Grella gently looped the ball over the keeper’s head. Perfect. Grella and Zizzo are two different players, their roles outside will force teams into difficult decisions while game planning.
  • Anatole Abang might be the first person in team history to have 100% passing in his first appearance and 0% in his second. He had just one pass in each game from his short time off the bench.
  • Dax McCarty completed more passes (64) than any of his teammates attempted (Felipe had the second most attempts with 58). Dax is owning his role as captain. He sets the pace of the game, and has even had some sweet transition passes.
  • In each of the games this year, whoever played left back has had the lowest pass completion percentage of starter on the field. Roy Miller (57.89%), Kemar Lawrence (65.31%), and Anthony Wallace (60.98%).