Three Things To Watch: New York v. Vancouver CCL Second Leg Preview

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The New York Red Bulls head into BC Place Thursday night with everything to play for. After emerging from their home tilt of the CONCACAF Champions league 1-1, they trail by virtue of away goals in the series.

Three Things To Watch: New York v. Vancouver CCL Leg 2 Preview

Vancouver will have several advantages in the match including home field, the inclusion of newly acquired Brek Shea, and the aforementioned away goal. Recent history of head to head playoff matches have often looked for the Red Bulls grim. This particular match carries some grey clouds with it, but there is still (And should be.) considerable hope around the team and match. To get a result, the Red Bulls must concentrate on these three areas:

Forward Line

Few question the talent the Red Bulls boast on their front line. Sacha Kljestan, Daniel Royer, Gonzalo Veron, and two-time golden boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips are some of the best players in their positions in the league. Some might scoff at that assertion; it is their right to do so. To back up such a claim however, the Red Bulls will need to produce. Their efforts in the first leg of the series showed signs of growth and promise, but lacked killer instinct.

The missing component is a strong link between the duo of Wright-Phillips and Veron. A two forward system is heavily reliant on the chemistry of the two forwards and their ability to read each other instinctively.

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From http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2017/02/22/armchair-analyst-another-first-look-rbnys-new-formation

Referencing this usage map, a disconnect between Veron and Bradley is apparent. If the strength of their partnership is reliant on familiarity, this issue should resolve itself with time. Despite playing with each other for their third season, Veron has rarely shared time on the field with Bradley in regular season matches. Consecutive starts in these positions are unheard of for the team. If the Red Bulls want to find success with this formation, it starts with those two making a stronger connection.

Who’s Assist is it Anyway?

Sacha Kljestan is one of the best playmakers in team history. His production in 2016 is a statement of his abilities. Heading into 2017, teams are much more likely to target stopping Kljestan with a two years worth of game film to use as preparation. The Red Bulls have wisely altered their approach by switching formations, but it may not be enough to continue to channel everything through the lanky captain.

Who will start to provide these assists when Sacha cannot? The usual suspects are Sean Davis and Felipe Martins. Both players are capable of breaking open a game with their passing. With less bodies in the center of the field, the midfield duo may come under more pressure from opposing teams. We saw a bit of this against Vancouver in leg 1. Still referencing the above passing map, the connection between Davis and Felipe and lateral teammates is plain to see.

This is partly due to the wide midfielders pinching in so much on the night, and partly due to the fullback’s offensive responsibilities in the Red Bull offense. The wide play cannot be limited to the offensive jaunts of these defensive players though. The Red Bulls front four contains two fantastic wingers, Gonzalo Veron and Daniel Royer.

Last year, the Red Bulls channeled so much of their play through the middle of the field. Given their personnel and formation, and it made perfect tactical sense. To move forward, they have to be less reliant on the tactics of last season. Trust the new system for what it brings to the table.

Nobody’s Perfect

The Red Bulls are punished for their errors seemingly worse than any team in the league. Sometimes this is the fault of their highly potent, and risky, pressing game. It is a high percentage method of defending, but the propensity for catastrophic failure is never far behind. A team that can counter quickly will always hurt the Red Bulls team content to hold possession in their opponents half of the field. The greater the numbers pushed into the attack, the greater the risk.

The goal the Red Bulls surrendered against the Whitecaps does not fall into this category. However, that does not mean Vancouver did not have ample opportunities to punish them as described above. If not for some errant touches, Vancouver would have had several good opportunities to add to their lead. The Red Bulls will need to account for the speed of Kekutah Mennah, and Brek Shea, in the counter attack, especially on the turf. Shea especially offers a stronger attacking component from the wing than the Whitecaps presented in leg 1. He can hold possession and take players on to create space.

Michael Murillo is likely to be included at right back. That could be an area of worry, despite positive feedback the Panamanian has received thus far. Incorporating a new player into the team while attempting to minimize the negative impact of work in progress team chemistry can be dangerous.

If the Red Bulls can take care of the ball and minimize Vancouver’s ability to get out on the break, they can easily come out of BC Place with a victory. It will take strong focus from every player on the field to keep the mistakes at bay, and find a crucial road goal or two for victory.