"Seven! Seven! Seven!" What ch’all know about seven? Pay me!" - Grits n’ Gravy.
By now you all know what transpired Saturday afternoon during the first meeting of 2016 between the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. RBNY delivered a comprehensive 7-0 beating that left Red Bulls fans elated, NYC fans embarrassed and all of the 37,858 at Yankee Stadium stunned.
With all of the hoopla (some organic, some manufactured but all of it real) in the lead up the game no one could’ve realistically predicted this outcome. What in the world happened in this soccer game at a baseball stadium in the Bronx where a team scored a touchdown?
How do you completely dominate someone while not completely dominating someone but still completely dominating someone?
On the front end, a 7-0 demolition is just that. However, unless you’re conducting a contest where the gulf in skill level is vast, reaching a scoreline as lopsided as 7-0 will need the losing team to be nearly as incompetent as the victors were excellent.
That brings us to Saturday afternoon’s proceedings at Yankee Stadium.
The result, the Red Bulls win, which was due to RBNY being faster, cleaner, mistake-free and devastatingly clinical in front of goal.
But that scoreline? That touchdown that the Red Bulls scored? That number had as much to do New York City being an object disaster in the critical moments as New York was superlative. It was in those critical moments where the team in red and white was sharp while the team in blue and white were an absolute mess.
Unlike what most teams have been doing against the Red Bulls, the blue team set out to control possession and were successful in that, maintaining a 57.4% rate. Not only did New York concede the possession battle, they had one of their worst passing days in terms of completion percentage of the season notching a 60% rate. Whenever RBNY had the ball in the attacking half and final third they struggled even more registering completion percentages of 58% and 48% respectively.
However, RBNY were spectacular on crosses, completing 50% in an area they usually struggle in. With three goals off corners and one off a free kick that was another corner for intends and purposes, the Red Bulls were clinical while the NYC’s man-making was comical at best.
Yankee Stadium’s field is a disaster and plays right into the Red Bulls’ hands.
The Red Bulls may not have been as tight with their passing game as they typical are, but much of that can be attributed to the field NYCFC plays on at the home of the New York Yankees. Not only was it small, per usual, and choppy due to the temporary sod laid over the infield dirt and warning tracks, it was also chewed-up in areas of the outfield.
Due to the playing surface, and NYC’s insistence on playing out of the back, New York defenders were able to send more long balls into the blue team’s end. This defensive tactic served as the key to RBNY’s press and attack. While this resulted in a few more wayward passes by New York players, it kick-started everything they wanted to do. They were able to set up their pressure in NYC’s end and push the game into a more helter-skelter affair which was perfect for the Red Bulls. RBNY thrive in chaos and NYC’s insistence on trying to play a possession-based game out of the back remains puzzling as the Red Bulls are allowed to easily harass NYC due to the lack of space needed to cover.
And that leads us to…
The Red Bulls press is making things happen again.
The most positive part of Saturday’s performance, outside of the hilarious final scoreline, was that the Red Bulls were able to generate three of their goals from pressure and turnovers.
For only the second time this season, New York lost the possession battle to an opponent and it played right into their hands. The other time RBNY possessed the ball more less than their opponent was in their draw at Orlando City earlier this month where the Lions maintained a 50.3% to 49.7% edge.
On Saturday, NYC possessed the ball 57.4% of the time and that allowed the Red Bulls to set up their press coax the blue team into mistakes. While RBNY won’t be able to rely on teams being as much of a clown show as NYC was in set-piece marking, they can get goals, most importantly from Bradley Wright-Phillips, off of their press.
In the 42nd minute, as NYC was looking to escape a half they were second-best in relatively unscathed, the Red Bulls produced a two-goal burst that put the result of the game no longer in doubt. And it all came as a result of pressure.
Wright-Phillips harassed NYC defender Frederic Brilliant, deflecting his harried pass right to the path of Mike Grella. From there it’s all Grella as he made Fredrico Bravo look silly before crossing right onto the head of BWP who gave New York a 2-0 lead.
A mere five minutes later, following another sequence where the Red Bulls regained possession in NYC’s half, Wright-Phillips turned a successful half for the Red Bulls into a spectacular one with his overhead goal that give New York a 3-0 halftime lead.
After Ronald Matarrita forgot to mark Dax McCarty for the second time on a corner resulting in McCarty’s second of the day and a 4-0 Red Bulls lead, New York made it 5-0 five minutes through Alex Muyl’s first career MLS goal. A direct result of New York’s pressure, NYC’s RJ Allen wayward pass back pass rolled right into the path of BWP who layed it off for the on-rushing Muyl and the Lower East Sider’s one-time effort flew past past Josh Saunders.
Remember, the Red Bulls’ lone goal in their 1-0 midweek victory over the Chicago Fire came from the pressure of Lloyd Sam who combined with BWP to find Grella for the game-winner.
Did NYCFC quit? It sure looked like it.
Did New York City FC come out flat and let your rivals score within three minutes in your own building? Check.
Allow your opponents' diminutive captain to get wide open for a header off that third-minute corner? Check.
Give up two goals within five minutes of each other at the end of the half to turn a competitive game into a blowout? Check.
Give up two goals within five minutes of each other at the beginning of the second half to turn a blowout into a onslaught? Check.
Give up two goals within six minutes of each at the end of the game by not even trying to defend? Check.
The Red Bulls gave NYCFC the work on Saturday afternoon and were ruthless in front of goal but some of those goals in the second were so easy that it looked like NYC had their hearts ripped out prior to halftime.
Yankee Stadium and questionable tactics from NYCFC are a formula for Red Bulls success.
In 2015, NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis put together a team that tried to play possession-based game on the small field at Yankee Stadium. The Blues finished with a home record below .500, missed the playoffs and Kreis lost his job.
It's 2016 and head coach Patrick Vieira is attempting the same thing and the team is, once again, below .500 at home.
As noted earlier, due to the unevenness of the playing surface and NYC’s insistence on playing a possession-based game, the Red Bulls lost the possession battle, were inaccurate with their passing and dominate in totality.
As Vieira's men aim to control tempo through possession despite playing on a tight and sloppy field, RBNY were able to use those tactics to their advantage.
While New York was more inaccurate in their passing than usual, their pressure and NYC’s possession control resulted in the ball spending most of the afternoon in NYC’s own half. The blue team may have had the ball more often but by having it in their own half played right into the Red Bulls’ hands. With the ball spending most of the time far away from their own goal, RBNY were able to limit NYC’s changes as they only registered two shots on goal. Also, RBNY was able to be more aggressive in their passing which resulted in a lower completion percentage but plenty of chances that they were able to capitalize on.
Sacha Kljestan had one pass in open play that didn’t reach its target on Saturday. One.
Sacha Kljestan, who's turning into the playmaker Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch hoped for, had one unsuccessful open play pass in his 80 minutes.
29 passes attempted, 28 completed. Five key passes and two assists.
Not too shabby.
He may have those two assists off of corners but he did have three unsuccessful crosses on corners. Slacker.
David Villa is a ghost when he plays the Red Bulls.
Last season, it was widely noted that New York City FC star David Villa, despite a successful season overall, had set up temporary residence in Matt Miazga’s pocket. With the USMNT defender sold to Chelsea in the offseason and the following injury crisis, many wondered how’d Villa would fare against a Red Bulls back line that’s spent most of the season in a state of disarray.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
With Chris Duvall and midseason acquisition Aurelien Collin making their third-straight start as New York’s center back combination, Villa was limited to one shot on goal in his 90 minutes of action. This represented the best performance the Collin-Duvall duo has produced thus far. The comfort level between the pair has apparent as they were able to spend as little time right next to each other. This allowed the central defenders to occupy wider spaces of Yankee Stadium’s narrow field as RBNY’s press was able to keep Villa in spaces where he couldn’t be dangerous.