A couple of weeks ago, Patrick Glodkowski pointed out that innovative set piece routines are a hallmark of the Red Bull tactical standard we like to call RalfBall. He reached his conclusion after noticing a free kick executed by RB Leipzig.
It would seem the New York Red Bulls were watching Brother Leipzig's antics, because a few days after Pat published his piece, RBNY tried the exact same routine against New England. You'll have to watch the game again to catch it, but it was recognizably the same play.
It didn't work out. Sacha skied the kick. But if at first you don't succeed, go back to the training ground and work on a variation.
The point of that play is to throw off the anticipation of the defense. In the case of Leipzig's effort, the Paderborn defenders in the wall flinch and twitch as every runner passes over the ball. By the time the kick is actually taken, the defense is largely watching to see if the ball is ever going to move. The 'keeper has shifted in anticipation three times. The ball finally sails into the net uncontested.
Against Orlando City, RBNY used a modified version of the same routine to similar effect. This time, there is just one dummy runner - Kemar Lawrence steps over the ball and runs straight at the wall. Felipe is screening the ball, and steps away just as Lawrence crosses him - more movement, more distraction. All of this serves to take focus away from the kicker's intention.
As soon as Kljestan kicks the ball, it's clear it's headed for the far post. But the distraction provides that step Matt Miazga and Lloyd Sam require to get ahead of their markers. At the same time, Dax McCarty has peeled off the wall and headed straight at goal; timing his run with Kljestan's, to stay onside. No marker follows him. Lawrence simply continues his run straight at goal, and is already a step ahead of his marker because he has momentum on his side.
The result is that when the ball reaches the six-yard box, there are four RBNY players converging on the goalmouth and just two Orlando defenders with them - including 'keeper Tally Hall. It's a mismatch, and the move is designed to create exactly the sort of opportunity McCarty got: an unmarked tap-in with the bulk of the defense frozen in the wall, and the other defenders dragged to the far post by the angle of the free kick.
It's a smart play. It's a fun play to watch. It's surely a fun play to make work in front of your own fans in a competitive game. And it's RalfBall. The Red Bull clubs are sharing ideas and modifying them to fit their particular needs. Leipzig no more invented the idea of dummy runners at a free kick than any other club in the Red Bull family - it's a common set piece variation. So common it's almost played out at the pro level, just like trick corners are rarely ever attempted - because players have got used to them, they lack the novelty they once had, and they can be tough to execute successfully. The risk can appear to outweigh the reward.
But RalfBall has an affection for these old tricks that many coaches might dismiss as playground tactics.
We don't know where in the Red Bull system these ideas originate, and it's not particularly important. Any team routinely has players cooking up and rehearsing new set piece ideas on the training ground - they're just not always welcomed onto the field in a competitive game by the coaching staff.
RalfBall, however, likes this sort of thing and clearly encourages it. And just as Leipzig's routine inspired RBNY over the last few weeks, perhaps the successful execution of this fresh variation on the theme against Orlando will spark a new trick or two for the RB clubs in Europe. (Or maybe the whole genre originated with RBNY, but Leipzig just made it work first - we don't know, and it doesn't really matter.)
Because RalfBall isn't just about gegen-pressing and unorthodox set-pieces. It's also about sharing what works.