After back-to-back shutouts, it was starting to feel like the New York Red Bulls had finally found the starting center back pairing they have been looking for since a combination of injuries and ineptitude pitched the team into crisis at the start of the season.
No one expected Chris Duvall and Aurelien Collin - respectively, a right back and a guy who only joined the team at the end of April - to be the answer to RBNY's defensive problems (and they aren't, entirely; tactical adjustments also have a role in the recent improvement in form), but a crisis is the opportunity for the unexpected and overlooked to assert their claims. Collin muscled his way into the team's vacancy for an experienced center back who wasn't injured, and Duvall has grown into a role no one but he and his head coach thought him adequately equipped to play. Kudos to both player and coach for keeping an open mind on the subject of whether a right back could do a job for the team in the center of defense.
Duvall and Collin have started the last three consecutive games as RBNY's starting center back pairing, and the last two of those have seen the team claim maximum points on the back of clean sheets. Things are settling down at the back for the Red Bulls.
Well, they were until reports out of RBNY training this week indicated Duvall has a minor injury that might hold him out of the upcoming game against Toronto FC. Because of course the Red Bulls have a little injury trouble with their center backs: it has the been the team's story all season, why stop now?
Duvall's knock won't inevitably cause him to miss the TFC game, and there is no suggestion it is anything that the pending break in the schedule can't fix (after Toronto visits Red Bull Arena on May 28, the Red Bulls don't have another league game until June 19).
But the defensive ranks might be a little thinner than imagined at the moment. Karl Ouimette, it is assumed, is still recovering from THAT kick. Ronald Zubar is...somewhere.
@canetop saw him at the training facility today, but don't know his official status— Eric Giacometti (@Eric_Giacometti) May 25, 2016
He is reportedly around, but he hasn't made a match-day 18 since he started against Orlando on May 6. The latest injury update out of the club suggests Gideon Baah would step in for Duvall if necessary, perhaps because Baah is the only other match-fit option if one of the current starting CBs is injured; Zubar isn't mentioned at all.
The Red Bulls' defense has come a long way since the team opened its season at Red Bull Arena against Toronto. Back on March 6, Gideon Baah and Ronald Zubar were the starting center backs. TFC will return to RBA to find Baah possibly deputizing at CB for the man formerly regarded as RBNY's second-choice right back, and perhaps we'll get a postcard from Zubar before Saturday so we at least know he's OK.
But that is the Red Bulls' one constant this season: center back problems. At least now we know they aren't in themselves responsible for the team being extraordinary or terrible; CB problems are simply the way RBNY does things this season.