CCL: Red Bulls Draw Vancouver – Three Things I Noticed

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(HARRISON, NJ) It was not the result the New York Red Bulls had hoped for. Knowing the team was in full preseason mode, fans were cautious with their optimism. The Red Bulls looked underprepared for the match, a sentiment Jesse Marsch had shared before the game.

CCL: Red Bulls Draw Vancouver – Three Things I Noticed

While there is plenty to chew over, there were a number of positive signs that fans should recognize and take comfort in. For each positive though, one large dark cloud hangs over NY. Here are three things I noticed:

Still Can’t Bust The Bunker

You have heard this story before. Over the last three seasons, it has been a commonality, a through line. The New York Red Bulls can dominate a game against just about any team in the league, and still find a way to come up short. This holds especially true in knockout competitions. Last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs are a great example, and against a Canadian team. Eerily, Sacha Kljestan missed a critical penalty in that match as well. The Red Bulls hold possession but can’t break down the opponent. A single mistake in the back dooms them.

It is so common, that I could have reused this paragraph from any of the last two seasons, updating the name of the opponent only. The game in question this go around is the quarterfinal of the CONCACAF Champions League. While both teams entered the game in full preseason form, there was still some very exciting action in the first half. The game’s tempo seemed to build throughout the half, and the Red Bulls were very much in the driver’s seat.

Alas, the goal would come from Vancouver Whitecaps newly minted US National Team player Kekuta Manneh. The opportunity was born of a poor clearance from Aurelien Collin leading to a corner kick. On the ensuing kick, the ball knocked around the box finding the diminutive forward. His header deflected off of the arm of Justin Bilyeu and into the back of the net.

The Red Bulls need to learn to address this. They held nearly 70% of the possession on the night and outshot Vancouver 14 to 9. If the aim of NY’s new look is to maximize potential in the playoffs, they have not found the right combination yet. At the very least, it needs time to grow within the group.

Long Form

If you watched the New York Red Bulls II last year, and were not impressed by the play of Aaron Long, you weren’t really paying attention. The journeyman central midfielder found a home on the backline and took the USL by storm. Long was a critical piece on a record setting defense, on a record setting team, during a record setting season. He performed so well, Jesse Marsch had loaned Long to the first team for last year’s playoff run. It was clear Marsch liked what he saw, though Long did not earn any minutes in MLS last season.

Three months later, Aaron Long is poised to be a critical piece of the 2017 Red Bulls. Marsch liked what he saw against Vancouver. “For me, one of our best players was Aaron Long… he had an almost flawless day. We’re really excited about him this year.” There is quite a lot to be excited about.

Applying a completely unscientific method, I scored each defender last night on successful defensive actions subtracted by losing possession in a variety of ways. Losing possession was determined by unsuccessful passes, unsuccessful dribbles, missed tackles. I did not try to weight the score of these actions by placement on the field. As I said, it is unscientific. Each action accounted for a point, positive or negative. Of the four defenders on the field, Long finished 15 points above the next best, Aurelien Collin. Zizzo, ostensibly the lowest rated defender on the night (Offensive actions with positive outcomes were not counted.) finished 18 points below Aaron.

Long managed to lead the team in recoveries, and passing on the night. His passing was fantastic. He attempted 41 passes and completed 40, for a grand total of 97.6%. He was easily the best on the team for the night. While he did not open up play, he was very tidy with his distribution off the backline, and noticeably started many of the attacks throughout the game.

A Kljestan Of Space

The amount of space opened on the right side of the field is noteworthy. Sacha Kljestan naturally drifts centrally in the midfield. This left the right side of the field entirely under the command of Sal Zizzo. Mercifully, Vancouver never capitalized on the space opened up for them. If Kljestan is going to play on the wing, another player will need to help cover that space or teams will feast on it. Last season, particularly in the opener against Toronto FC, when the Red Bulls tried this experiment, they were punished for it.

There is no question the talent Sacha Kljestan possesses, but there may be an issue of how to fit him and Gonzalo Veron on the field together in the 4-2-2-2. Kljestan and Veron both seem to thrive in a role that allows them to wander while playing underneath a pure striker. The Red Bulls must solve that problem ahead of the season or risk another slow start.

Random Notes

  • Sean Davis upped his utilization numbers in a big way. He attempted 71 passes on the night, second only to Felipe. Of his 71 attempts, he completed 88.7%. None of those passes were key passes or assists.
  • Long and Collin’s numbers on the backline very closely resemble the partnership of Miazga and Perrinelle in 2015. For those worried about the central defense, you can breathe a sigh of relief if they keep that up. The pair combined for 18 clearances, and 9 recoveries.
  • In a game that seemed devoid of quality chances, the front four of the Red Bulls combined for 10 shots in total. The downside? Only two were on target.
  • David Ousted must love playing in Red Bull Arena. His last two matches their have yielded 3 penalty saves in a row. Pretty remarkable.