The New York Red Bulls felt they turned a corner last week in Orlando, getting to something resembling their old performances from the past couple of seasons. Against D.C. United, they got closer still: turning in not only a performance but also a result that would not look out of place alongside some of their better work from 2015 and 2016. A lot of that can be attributed to the return to the formation that guided the team over the last two seasons: the 4-2-3-1.
A two-goal, clean-sheet victory against their oldest rival was exactly what the Red Bulls needed after a string of frustrating results. Back home for the first time since the 0-0 tie with Real Salt Lake on March 25, RBNY exited the first half with the game scoreless and just the slightest threat that this game might follow the pattern of its predecessor at Red Bull Arena. But the opening goal arrived almost as soon as the second half started.
In the 46th minute, Alex Muyl headed home from a Sacha Kljestan corner, for his first goal of the season.
In the 62nd minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips got on the board with his third league goal of 2017, doubling RBNY’s lead with a signature first-touch finish. With BWP seemingly locked up by three defenders, Felipe played a ball around the edge of the well-set back-line, and Wright-Phillips made a nonsense of the defense’s positioning with a run that suddenly put him one-on-one with ‘keeper Bill Hamid.
D.C. United looked to be in disarray, but did succeed in staging a lively attempt at a comeback in the game’s later stages. It was too little too late,however, as Luis Robles shut the door with two solid saves. The Red Bulls four-match winless streak came to an end with a satisfying 2-0 win that saw every player on the field able to take some pride from their work on the day.
Why did they look better these past two matches? The 4-2-3-1 was the starting formation for both games, and would seem the obvious explanation for the team’s visible return to its old self.
There’s more to it that, of course. The Red Bulls were expecting a battle from DC, and they got much what they anticipated. Post-match, head coach Jesse Marsch praised his team, and in particular his captain, for the effort shown to stick with a stubborn and physical opponent:
“We know when we play DC that physically we have to be up for the challenge and that is often the starting point for what these games are,” said Marsch. “I thought that Sacha covered a lot of ground. He sprinted. He counter-pressed a lot. He pressed a lot. And that, I thought, helped set the tone for the team.
In the first half, we weren’t able to really develop as much in the attacking part of the field with the ball, but sometimes when you play against DC and in these big games, that’s how you have to meet the standard of that for maybe 45 minutes, maybe 60 minutes, maybe 90 minutes - until the game settles down.”
Kljestan did indeed seem to work his way back into familiar form, testing the channels with his passing and finding his range from set-pieces.
The win was exactly what the home crowd came to see, and will hope to see again soon. The next two games the Red Bulls play will be at Red Bull Arena, followed by another string of three after a quick road trip to Kansas City and Philadelphia in the first week of May.
A confident Columbus Crew is up next, on April 22. But RBNY looks to have some of its old confidence back, and will surely be eager to test itself against the team that is currently top of the Eastern Conference.