Just three days after their lackluster showing the US Open Cup final, the New York Red Bulls travel to Ohio to take on a Columbus Crew side that is unbeaten in their last six matches.
It is not exactly the best time to be playing the Crew, as the team has been in fine form in recent weeks. Their surge since mid-August sees them sit in 5th place, just two points ahead of the Red Bulls in the standings. The Red Bulls do have two games in hand on the Crew, but this is a must win for both teams regardless of games remaining.
The real dangerman for the Crew is forward Ola Kamara. With four goals in his last four matches, the Norwegian has more than proven his worth this season. He is a dangerous forward that, if given even the slightest chance, will get into threatening positions and create havoc. Kamara is the sixth highest scorer in MLS this season as well, having scored 16 goals in league play.
As if having one free scoring player is not worry enough, the Crew also possess two other forwards that are proven game changers. Justin Meram and Federico Higuain have been having phenomenal seasons of their own behind lead striker Kamara. The two have a combined 20 goals and eight assists in MLS play and always look likely to influence the match. They are great compliments to Kamara, as Higuain is a wonderful creative forward and Meram has plenty of pace to get in behind the defense. With all three players in very fine form, the Red Bulls should be a bit worried going into this match.
For New York, the team will look to quickly forget the dreadful result they suffered at the hands of Sporting Kansas City. At a time in the season where the club needed a big boost, all they got was more of the same; not enough chances, sloppy defending and no scoring threat other than Bradley Wright-Phillips. With just six matches remaining in the season, the team needs to wake up if they want to qualify for the playoffs.
It is sad to say, but a change in formation may be what the team needs to break out of their slump. The system that worked so well in the middle of the season has only created more problems in the last few months. A flat back four with Kemar Lawrence and Connor Lade as fullbacks and Aaron Long next to Fidel Escobar in the center would offer much better defensive cover than the team is currently producing.
Getting Daniel Royer back into the starting eleven as soon as possible will also do wonders for Jesse Marsch and his team. It may take a match or two to get back into the flow of things, but just having another option up top will open up more time and space for Wright-Phillips both on and off the ball. Royer sadly was not fit enough to make an appearance in the cup final, but heading into the tail end of the season, will be expected to feature in at least four of the remaining matches.
Marsch may also need to finally make a change that has been coming for the past five months. Dropping Alex Muyl to the bench and starting either Gonzalo Veron or even Muhamed Keita could be a choice the coach needs to make sooner rather than later. Muyl has consistently been an issue in the team, lacking any sort or ability to change the match. Though giving him game time seemed like the right idea at the start of the season, it is clear that this plan has not worked out. It is time for Marsch to accept that fact and move on before hurting the team any further.
Normally, a draw on the road would be an acceptable outcome for the Red Bulls. This cannot be the case going into this match against the Crew. They desperately need three points and should be going all out for the result. The club has a very compact schedule in the next week, so starting with a positive result could be the spark the club needs to get back on track.