The surprise in the New York Red Bulls’ starting lineup for the first leg of this 2018 MLS Eastern Conference Final was the absence of Kemar Lawrence. And it will be a surprise if Lawrence is present for the second leg. The injury that held him out of the game in Atlanta has held him out of training ever since - if he’s even in the 18-man squad for this match, it will be quite unexpected.
The Athletic’s Kristian Dyer has an idea for how Lawrence might still impact the game, which mostly illustrates why Dyer’s talents are best applied to reporting on the Red Bulls rather than managing their match-day entertainment program.
Source: Facing an elimination game, if he's unable to play #RBNY defender Kemar Lawrence will instead spin hits from a DJ turntable mounted on the back of a truck. He will play his set at halftime to the throngs at Red Bull Arena.#DJTaxi— Kristian Dyer (@KristianRDyer) November 29, 2018
Assuming Lawrence is fit and praying he isn’t manning turntables at half-time, this column believes Chris Armas will stick by Connor Lade as the squad’s proven stand-in at left-back.
If allezleslions.net is correct, Anatole Abang may get the chance to feature in this game, and that is surprising in itself. But it is difficult to contemplate Armas handing Abang his first RBNY start in over two years in such a big game: it’s win or go home time for the Red Bulls, and the guy that the team didn’t trust to even be at training for almost 24 months doesn’t seem likely to be trusted with a start in this one. The Cameroonian forward does have qualities otherwise lacking the squad, mostly relating to the fact he’s the only true forward on the roster listed at over 6’. He would present Atlanta with a different sort of test than might have been expected from RBNY, but it’s likely to be the sort of test Armas deploys after he’s seen what his first-choice starters can do with a sense of urgency and the Red Bull Arena crowd behind them.
Predicted RBNY lineup vs Atlanta United: Luis Robles; Connor Lade, Aaron Long, Tim Parker, Michael Amir Murillo; Sean Davis, Tyler Adams; Daniel Royer, Kaku, Alex Muyl; Bradley Wright-Phillips
The Red Bulls’ plan for the first leg did not work out. Chris Armas has explained his thinking - concern about the vulnerability of a high line to long balls over the top, in essence - and conceded that it did not deliver:
I thought we thought about it the right way. I’m pleased with the work leading up, but I’m not pleased with the result.
For all the talk of playing without fear around the club, the Red Bulls essentially tried to duck the challenge Atlanta was preparing. ATL seemed to be developing a tactic to neutralize the high press, and RBNY neutralized themselves - for much of the first half at least - and didn’t get the breaks they required when they tried to put themselves back in the game.
The consequence of that decision was a 3-0 first-leg loss. Even a perfectly executed game-plan might not produce the 3-0 win RBNY requires just to force this series into extra-time. Whatever lineup is selected faces a very difficult challenge indeed - with perhaps the consolation that if they are successful, they will have pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of their club and MLS.