The New York Red Bulls’ 2018 season starts in earnest at 10:00 pm, Eastern, on Thursday, February 22. The occasion is the first leg of the team’s opening round of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League - an away game against CD Olimpia.
Although Olimpia is technically the home team, the Honduran club isn’t allowed to play at home in CONCACAF competitions at the moment and CONCACAF doesn’t want to stage any games at all in Honduras until the country’s political situation settles down.
So RBNY’s 2018 season-opener is an away-day in Costa Rica against a team from Honduras. Once A Metro’s first stab at a lineup prediction for this year will doubtless make even less sense than the Red Bulls’ present circumstances.
Jesse Marsch has played around with formations in preseason, utilizing both the three-at-the-back approach he favored for much of last year, and the 4-2-3-1 that had previously been his starting template for most of his tenure at RBNY. And it’s widely assumed that the Red Bulls haven’t stopped trying to see if they can get a 4-2-2-2 off the ground. So the head coach has some options for his opening game of 2018.
This observer’s thinking is that Marsch will look to play it safe for this match. A combination of a sub-optimal preseason, a warmed-up opponent (Olimpia has played nine league games since returning from its winter break), and an unfamiliar venue would seem to recommend RBNY err on the side of caution for this one. And for this observer, three-at-the-back is the way Marsch seems to like to play when he’s trying to hedge his bets: the team can still press and harry in the final third, but a three-centerback set-up tends to leave an extra man back to cover the counter-attack without completely wrecking RBNY’s preferred attacking shape.
So OaM is lining the Red Bulls up in the 5-4-1, or 3-3-3-1, or whatever you prefer to call it.
Not the most shocking prediction, for sure. Also very likely to be wrong. Still, here’s the rationale:
GK - Luis Robles: he’s the new club captain and would be the undisputed RBNY starting ‘keeper even if he wasn’t wearing the armband.
CBs - Aaron Long, Aurelien Collin, Amir Murillo: this trio seems to Marsch’s preferred starting three at the back when he’s playing this formation, at least for now.
LB - Kemar Lawrence: Seemed like one of the livelier players in the RBNY first team’s limited preseason appearances - and this formation gives him a little more freedom in the final third, which suits him when he’s in the mood for it.
RB - Tyler Adams: This observer isn’t a fan of Adams playing as a right wing back, but this observer doesn’t pick the team or manage its training sessions. Also, he’s not at all bad at this position in this formation.
CMs - Felipe & Marc Rzatkowski: Marsch hasn’t gone into many games at RBNY without Felipe in the starting lineup and this would be an odd moment to change that habit; new man Rzatkowski offers positional flexibility and is a set-piece taking option.
LW - Daniel Royer: 15 goals in all competitions last season established Royer’s credentials as a significant attacking threat for RBNY.
RW - Sean Davis: Marsch has been talking up Derrick Etienne recently, and Alex Muyl got himself some goals in preseason, but Davis’ claim to the starting lineup is speaking loudest to OaM.
FWD - BWP: he scored his 100th career goal for RBNY in his last game of 2017, and it’ll be handy if he starts 2018 with 101.
Subs: Ryan Meara, Fidel Escobar, Alex Muyl, Derrick Etienne, Carlos Rivas, Connor Lade, Vincent Bezecourt