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Three Things I Noticed: RBNY vs. NYCFC

Three Things I Noticed: RBNY vs. NYCFC

To the surprise of no one, the New York Red Bulls managed to return to their winning ways against “rivals” New York City FC, shedding a 3-game winless streak and winning for only their second time in their last five games. The Red Bulls never really looked like they would lose to the Citizens, but it was ultimately a stark departure of recent tactics that should have raised eyebrows. Before the first half came to a close, New York prime went down a man thanks to a tactical foul committed by young Matt Miazga who was already on a yellow card. While a change in strategy would be inevitable playing a man down for a majority of the game, the truth is, the change took place before a ball had been kicked. Here are the three things I noticed:

Direct Flights from (nearly) Newark

Last week I discussed the need for the Red Bulls to alter their mentality a bit. Teams had started to put together the pieces to limit NY’s chances by ceding possession and looking strictly to counter. My theory was, that the fewer passes the Red Bulls were attempting per and limiting possession in a match, the better they fared in the results column. The Red Bulls did just that against NYCFC. In fact, and in large part due to the red card late in the first half, the Red Bulls did not win the possession battle for the first time this year. They set a season low for number of passes attempted and a season high for the number of passes against, including a staggering 32% of which came in the RB final third. Not only did they win the game, the narrative after the game was about how they dominated. The Red Bulls employed the exact same tactics that have frustrated them over the last three games to spectacular results. NYCFC finished the day with just 2 shots on goal. By limiting their opponent’s opportunities, they drew City’s team into their half and then punished them on the counter. Again, this was exacerbated by the red card, but the writing was on the wall from the opening whistle.

While being able to play direct has been a staple of MLS since day one, the idea of beautiful soccer will generally be the ultimate goal for most teams. That sort of thinking can be misguided, as no system should ever be THE answer. What do great tactical coaches do better than anyone else? Adapt. While system changes should be fluid within the context of a match, it is encouraging to see Marsch reacting and adjusting from game to game. The game can be dictated by pressure, and is not wholly reliant on possession. The goal should be to always put the opposing team off balance by playing against their weakness. Having the team understand that and not lose their role on the team is extremely difficult and must be waded through with extreme caution. Kudos to Marsch for getting the job done, but proceed with caution lest you emulate mistakes of Red Bull/Metro past.

Kemar Lawrence

Roy Miller might be the best back up left back in the league. The Red Bull’s first choice left back for the last 5 years may finally be seeing his opportunities dwindling thanks to the performance of a young man known as Taxi. When the Red Bulls traded for Felipe and the top allocation spot (Which became Sacha Kljestan) this offseason, many were up in arms at the thought of losing the young promising left sided player Ambroise Oyongo (I was not one of them, fearing the loss of Alexander much more important. Though ultimately proved wrong by the tremendous play of Felipe.). I did not rate Oyongo as a left back, and only thought of him as an adequate but far from formed midfielder. With the emergence of Kemar Lawrence and the continued absence of Oyongo in Montreal, it would be hard for anyone to look back on that deal as anything but an absolute steal.

Lawrence was the Red Bulls best player on the backline against City. Only Dax McCarty had more recoveries for NY, but Lawrence led the backline in almost every other stat. Lawrence was responsible for almost single handedly shutting down the right side of City’s attack, and aiding quite a bit while pinching in towards the end of the game. In fact, it was his tackle that sprung the attack leading to the second goal. Diskerud played a ball into Shelton at the top of the box. Shelton deftly passed the ball back to Diskerud with his first touch. Mix danced past Dax and had one defender to beat to find himself alone in the box with David Villa. Kemar launched in with a perfectly timed slide tackle knocking the ball up to Lloyd Sam. The rest is history. Lawrence excels at one on one defending and understands the position well enough to know when to venture forward, and when to hang back in support. His short stature betrays his strength and his speed is the sort of thing coaches salivate over from a wing back. His biggest downside? He might be too good to stay in the league for long. For now though, the Red Bulls have a left back that seems to combine the best attributes of Miller and the long gone Oyongo.


The biggest beneficiary of the Red Bulls direct style on the night was Bradley Wright-Phillips. By limiting the amount of time defenses had to set up, the amount of space for Bradley was drastically increased. With the wingbacks caught out of position further up the field, the NYCFC centerbacks were pulled from the middle, leaving last year’s goal scoring machine in one on one scenarios. It also allowed him space to use his speed to beat the offside trap with some very well timed runs. City’s backline was increasingly caught up field as the game wore on, and surely it is the reason Jesse Marsch player Dane Richards up top towards the end of the game. But I digress. Phillips was the star of the show on the night and it showed on the stat sheet. He set his season high for shots, both total and on goal, and looked a lot like his former self. Both of the goals he scored were the type of poacher goals he scored regularly last season. The so called “Henry effect,” as many called it. The truth is, it is a product of the team transitioning quickly into the attack.

My two biggest critiques in last week’s column were addressed and though the competition was admittedly weak, the results are what matter. The next test for the team should be far more significant when the Red Bulls travel to Frisco, TX for a Friday night game against FC Dallas. The Texas heat combined with Dallas’s attacking prowess should offer a significant challenge the Red Bulls who are still keeping pace with the leaders of the Eastern Conference. With just about a third of the season gone, NY has one of the best points per game total in the league, even after their poor run of performances last week, still the long hot summer looms ahead like a dark cloud waiting to envelope the high press style. As a perennial pessimist, I’ll be watching for signs of petulance and prostration. For the pessimist is always right until he isn’t.



  • Dane Richards is just 26 appearances shy of breaking Mike Petke’s record for appearances. It is unlikely that he will beat the record this year, but you never know. Richards has been the go to guy to keep defenses honest at the end of games. So if the Red Bulls are leading, expect to see plenty more Dane in the future.
  • Before Matt Miazga’s ejection on Sunday, he completed 9 of his attempted 10 passes. While he has a bit to learn about decision making, his work with the ball at his feet has been phenomenal so far this year.
  • Felipe’s passing numbers have dipped in the recent weeks, but his number of chances created has mostly been on the upswing. The reason is, he is playing a bit more adventurous which will certainly lead to more chances and a lower completion rating. In spite of Kljestan playing as the attacking midfielder, Martins continues to be the one opening up the defense. Felipes chances created this season (26) are double that of Kljestan (13). Sam has the next most of any of the midfielders with 11.
  • This coming week is another good opportunity to test out my fatigue theory. Red Bulls are coming off of a short rest and if my theory proves true, should have a relatively high number of turnovers. This may in fact be all for naught if they continue to employ a more direct style. Still it’s worth a shot.

Main Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images


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