June 21st, 2015 (Harrison, NJ) – After his club lost it’s third straight league match at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps, New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch was understandably cross in post game. But, instead of pointing all the blame at midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who was sent to an early shower after seeing a straight red in the 11th minute, he shouldered the responsibility for the current run of form himself. “I’m the manager here and there’s one guy that has to take responsibility and that’s me. I will look hard at everything from what we’re doing tactically to what we’re doing selection wise,” he stated.
In the second half, the Red Bulls hand long stretches of time where they were able to press the Caps, despite being down a man for tremendous length of time. This is not to say the first team didn’t have their chances. Bradley Wright-Philips had two penalty kicks saved by Caps keeper David Ousted, and that is just on the surface of the play created by the Red Bulls attack. But what really drove the Red Bulls shorthanded attack was a tactical choice made during half time to take Sal Zizzo, returning from injury, off the field and inserting one Anatole Abang into the second half. Normally, when you see a coach make a second half lineup change when playing down a man, it is to add defensive strength. You’ll traditionally see a coach insert a third centerback or a more defensively minded midfielder. But, Marsch chose to put in a third man that naturally plays striker. He already had both Wright-Philips, and Mike Grella, who although being traditionally a striker, has been converted to a winger in Marsch’s 4-2-3-1.
With Abang on the field, the Red Bulls gained some of their bite back. Jesse Marsch was compelled to take notice. “Abang certainly continues to make a really good case for himself. I have a lot of thinking to do about which guys have earned the right to be on the field,” Marsch added.
Anatole Abang, the young Cameroonian striker, has mostly been plying his trade with the USL team. He has impressed in the minutes he has had with them, and even coming into matches in relief for the senior team, has made some sit up and take notice. His height, his strength, and his speed make for a dangerous combination as the Red Bulls try to find points late. Against Vancouver, he scored his second goal of the season off a volley served up by Chris Duvall, who found some redemption after being beaten by Caps attacker Kekuta Manneh all night long.
But the buildup to that Abang goal would not have been possible without the distribution of one Manolo Sanchez. After the second penalty kick was saved, Marsch took Wright-Philips out of the match and brought on Sanchez, another natural striker, in relief. In post game, Marsch talked a bit about Sanchez’s first minutes with the senior team, “We know he has a quality to put defenders on their heels and make a play. He helped with the goal by getting himself in a good spot and helping set up the draw. Then he does a really good job when he ran at the defender to set up his right foot, gets bumped a little bit but still gets the shot off and Ousted makes a really good save. I thought he had a really positive impact on the game and it was good to see.”
Sanchez displayed both speed and creativity in attack, and made a case for himself to see more playing time during a dense schedule. Saturday’s match was the first of 6 matches in 18 days for New York. Regardless of the result, Sanchez earned an assist, his first for Major League Soccer. Sanchez acknowledged the minutes both he and Abang received on the USL side in helping him make an immediate impact on the senior team. “Red Bull II has been a huge thing for us young players. I think it’s our job as young players to come in and provide energy and work rate and anything the team asks of you. Abang and I… will try to do that to the best of our ability as the season goes on.”
Marsch agreed, “For Manolo and Abang I think the USL Pro minutes have really helped those guys and kept them going at game speed. All these young players are making me consider some lineup choices so we have some decisions to make moving forward.”
Sanchez continued, talking about the leadership of the team helping him grow as a young player in the league, “You have to look no further than the captain Dax – the effort, the commitment, and the heart they put into each game is incredible.”
The Red Bulls will need to continue to maximize on that depth, as their schedule doesn’t get any easier. On Wednesday, they face Real Salt Lake, then on Sunday they travel to the other side of the river to face a red hot NYCFC side. After the Hudson Derby match, the Red Bulls host their US Open Cup round of 16 match against the New York Cosmos 48 hours later. You have to imagine that the club will be out for revenge in that match, as the Cosmos embarrassed the Red Bulls in the 2014 offering at Shuart Field.
Featured Photo: Bill Twomey/Bill Twomey Photography