Tomorrow the New York Red Bulls look to continue their recent good form when they visit Columbus Crew SC in a rematch of 2-1 win for the Red Bulls in March. Ahead of the match, we here at Once a Metro took some time to talk to Patrick Murphy of The Massive Report (TMR) about the mid-season rematch.
OaM: Gregg Berhalter put out a makeshift squad for the Crew's US Open Cup match against Orlando City SC. Was this done to prioritizing making the MLS Playoffs over winning the Cup, or is this more of a sign of Berhalter rotating his squad during a short week?
TMR: I think it was more squad rotation than anything else. Berhatler said on Monday the team was going to put out a side to win the game. While some fans may not have believed him after seeing the starting lineup, I think it was probably the smart decision.
Crew SC fans continue to complain that the club doesn't put an emphasis on the Open Cup despite saying they care about it. I would argue that Berhalter and his staff do care, but you have to have priorities. MLS play and making the playoffs is the number one focus for this team. While everyone would love to see a deep run in the Open Cup, it's not worth throwing away a conference game to do so.
Also, playing reserve players in the Open Cup gives them game action and allows the staff to see how they respond to certain situations. With no reserve league, it's hard to find minutes for these players. Let's remember, these are people who want to be on the field, not just characters in FIFA. Berhalter wants to see the rest of his team and the Open Cup was a good time to do that.
Orlando had the weekend before Tuesday's game off so Adrian Heath could use a first-choice side. It paid dividends as City capitalized on two Black & Gold mistakes and advanced to the next round.
That was a long-winded way of saying mostly squad rotation, but a bit of both in my mind.
OaM: Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay have been on fire, leading the league in goals and assists respectively. If you were in the Red Bulls' shoes, how you would you game plan to contain the two?
TMR: I think if I had the answer to that question, we wouldn't be doing this and I'd be standing on the sidelines.
In all seriousness, I think this is the problem facing any team that Crew SC faces. In a year and a half, Finlay has gone from a player who hardly made the bench to a feared wing player in this league. Despite playing fast, he's slowed his game down so he's more in control. Kamara has come in and allowed Columbus to play a more diverse style of soccer, with the front four interchanging positions constantly.
If I'm charged with figuring out how to stop them, I try and make them uncomfortable. Finlay is not as good if you can force him to his left foot, but you have to do that and isolate him on the wing. If he can cut back to the left, find a simple pass to a teammate, and then move off the ball, you haven't done your job. With Kamara, it's about constantly keeping track of him. Like any good striker, he's able to find space with his runs and capitalizes on any mistakes by the defense.
Sound defending on these two won't always get the job done, as they are both good players, but sticking to fundamentals and being aware of their movements will go a long way for the Red Bulls.
OaM: While the Red Bulls and Crew don't have a rivalry, there has been no love lost between the two. How much is the team looking to make up for the 2-1 loss back in March?
TMR: That has come up several times this week. I don't think Crew SC looks at this contest as a revenge game, but more a chance to show that the performance at MAPFRE Stadium earlier in the year was a fluke.
Berhalter said this week that he thought the Black & Gold didn't "play their game" in the first meeting. He thought the movements and the passing were all too slow and allowed New York to contain Columbus' attacking. Captain Michael Parkhurst told me today that the defense gave the ball away too much coming out of the back in the first game and that's been a focus this week knowing the front players the back line will see this Saturday.
While this isn't a rivalry like the Chicago Fire and Crew SC or the Red Bulls and D.C. United, I think 20 years of history has created some memorable matches. MLS Cup is obviously one that comes to mind, but even last year with two routes - one by each side - give these meetings a little bit of an edge.
I expect nothing less on Saturday as both teams look to climb this Eastern Conference ladder.
Predicted Lineup: Steve Clark; Hector Jimenez-Michael Parkhurst-Emanuel; Pogatetz-Waylon Franics; Ethan Finlay-Tony Tchani-Mohammed Saeid-Justin Meram; Federico Higuain; Kei Kamara
Prediction: Crew 2-1 RBNY
To see our side of the conversation, please visit The Massive Report.