During the conference call earlier today to announce the transfer acquisition of Sacha Kljestan, New York Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis was asked about the potential for a change in the formation of the team. He was understandably non-committal with his response. However, the more I think about the roster and the best eleven players available I think a new formation could become a reality for the 2015 edition of the Red Bulls.
I know that some people believe that Kljestan is an upgraded version of Eric Alexander, who was a key player in a formation change last year by former Head Coach Mike Petke which turned their season around in 2014 resulting in the team making a deep playoff run. Alexander was shifted into a central defending midfield role or "holding midfielder" along with Dax McCarty which enabled the offensive attacking players to play a much looser style knowing that they had an extra layer of protection in front of the defensive back line.
I view Sacha Kljestan as a two way midfielder and not a true central defending midfielder. In the event that the coaching staff does not make any further personnel moves, they would most likely need Sacha to play a greater role on offense. In that scenario, a formation change to a 4-1-4-1 would be a possibility. In that formation you would have just one central defensive midfielder, Dax McCarty, and they would play with four offensive or attacking midfielders and Bradley Wright-Phillips up top as the lone striker.
The main issue with that formation from my perspective is that it puts a great deal of pressure on McCarty to cover a lot of ground in the absence of another holding midfielder. This formation would also put a lot of pressure on what is projected to be a very young defensive back line for the club. I feel it would emphasize any mistakes they might make which will be inevitable due to their lack of experience.
In addition, the 4-1-4-1 formation ,should Tim Cahill not return to the club, will rely upon someone else stepping up on the left wing position opposite Lloyd Sam. In that case it would likely be Ruben Bover or newcomer Sal Zizzo assuming that role with the club. I am unsure of whether either player can perform consistently enough to hold down that spot in the lineup over the course of a full season.
The new head coach of the New York Red Bulls, Jesse Marsch, could also decide to go with a 4-1-3-1-1 hybrid type of formation where Dax McCarty would remain the holding midfielder. However, the man in the center of the three person midfield could shift into a more defensive or offensive role depending on the game situation. The offense would not suffer because the up field offensive midfielder can feed the ball to the striker.
The final option would depend on the Red Bulls getting another forward to pair with Wright-Phillips so it is purely speculation at this point in time. In that scenario Coach Marsch could employ a 4-1-3-2 formation with two forwards up top and would rely on one of the three midfielders to be able to cover a good deal of ground to get back to support McCarty and the defensive core of the team. In my view, the Red Bulls have the midfield depth to be very flexible to accommodate this formation provided they obtain a forward to pair with Wright-Phillips in the next two or three weeks.
What do you, my fellow Red Bulls fans think? Does this signing indicate a change in formation for the club?