Can the Red Bulls find their offense at Minnesota United?

Gerhard Struber hopes the Red Bulls can find their offense at Minnesota United

PREVIEW – For the first time in nearly six years, the New York Red Bulls will head to Minnesota United for a Saturday night showdown. Jesse Marsch was the manager when the Red Bulls won 3-0  at Huntington Bank Stadium back in July 2017. New York will hope for better luck in front of goal these days, as they are in search of their first score of the season. Last week’s 0-0 draw against Nashville SC was a real struggle for both offenses. Now, New York goes against the Loons who are well-rested, having not played in nearly two weeks. Minnesota are entering their 2023 home opener off a 1-0 win at FC Dallas. This will be the fifth all-time meeting between the teams. Mother Nature could play a factor in this game, so let’s take a look at this from all angles.

The Red Bulls search for goals at the Minnesota United

Red Bulls looking for answers up front while rock-solid at the back

It has not been easy for the Red Bulls to find scoring opportunities. Switching to a 4-2-2-2 has not been a smooth transition, and the build up has been lackluster. The Red Bulls rank middle of the pack with 7 shots on target in their opening two games. Elias Manoel and Tom Barlow were the strike partnership at Orlando City and against Nashville, but haven’t been clinical with their chances. Dante Vanzeir made his club debut last week, playing a little over 14 minutes, winning an aerial and ground duel. The Belgium is in line to make his full debut from the start Saturday night.

It hasn’t just been the forwards that are struggling, the wide players are rusty as well. Lewis Morgan has been subbed off in both games, nursing a hamstring problem. Gerhard Struber noted in his press conference that Morgan did train throughout the week and is ready to start this weekend. He’ll likely be partnered with Luquinhas on the other wing, who is also looking to pick up form but is a threat to any opposition. The Brazilian went the full 90+ minutes last week, creating three chances and six passes into the final third. Cory Burke displayed some decent hold-up play when he subbed in for Barlow. There are bright spots but very few and far between. Much of the focus will be on how this attack clicks at Minnesota.

Conversely, this defense has been great. Red Bulls are the only team in MLS yet to allow a single shot on target from open play. The centerback pairing of Andres Reyes and Sean Nealis is excellent, with the latter featured on the bench in the latest MLS Team of the Week. Reyes ranks first in MLS in challenges won with 32, while Nealis is second with 27. Struber noted that the Colombian defender is a “player for Europe”, displaying his immense potential. Cameron Harper was great last week but was subbed off with a concussion, and is out for this game while in concussion protocol. Dylan Nealis and Kyle Duncan are the backup options.

Minnesota United, without Emmanuel Reynoso are set for a cold, possibly snowy home opener

Adrian Heath is in his seventh season in charge of the Loons, who are off to a winning start in 2023. The 1-0 win at FC Dallas was hard-fought, with less than 40% possession in that game and converted on a sweet counter-attacking goal by Mender Garcia. Now, just because Minnesota scored doesn’t mean it was easy to come by. The Loons generated four shots on target at Dallas, and posted an Expected Goals tally of 0.80. They didn’t even have a corner kick in the entire game, which is nearly impossible in the modern day.

Dayne St. Clair did just enough to preserve the clean sheet two weeks ago. New signings Zarek Valentin and Miguel Tapias were really good in keeping Dallas off the scoreboard, but the team will need more out of midfielder Robin Lod. The Finland international has a tough job filling in the shoes of the elite Emmanuel Reynoso. The attacking playmaker is suspended without pay by the league by not reporting to preseason camp. The Argentine lead the team last year with 18 goal contributions, but there’s been no update on his return.

Minnesota are also monitoring the statuses of Bongokuhle Hlongwane (hamstring) and Will Trapp (rib). There’ll be a sense of familiarity on the pitch as former Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence plays against his old club. But there’s a bigger force on the horizon. According to the forecasts, there’s a strong chance of snow coming to Allianz Field in Saint Paul. Heath downplayed the weather, saying they’ll “prepare as though everything is going to go ahead as normal and we expect so”. But that’s easier said than done, and tactics might not matter much should the snowflakes fall upon the field.

Prediction: Minnesota United 0-1 Red Bulls

I mentioned this last week, and it stands until further notice: until the Red Bulls score more than a goal in a game, I can only see them scoring one goal. The snow could play to the Red Bulls’ advantage. The more the snow falls on the ground, the more sticky the ball will be to the ground. That’ll aid the Red Bulls’ trademark pressing game, in the hopes of winning possession up the pitch. But the rub comes in, which is getting the ball in the net. The Red Bulls have more weapons than the Loons, but scoring remains to be seen. This game might be a visual spectacle, and could conjure up memories of the Snow Opener against Atlanta in 2017. Expect another defensive battle between the two sides. One goal, one chance could be the difference in this East-West affair.

Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports on Mar 4, 2023, of New York Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber.