The New York Red Bulls are just a few weeks away from their first competitive match of the season. February 22nd will see the club travel to Honduras to take on CD Olimpia in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16. All eyes will be on Jesse Marsch and his team selection heading up to this point, and the manager has a few different ways he can shape his team on the field.
One option would be to keep the same system that dominated so much of the second half of the 2017 season. Marsch favored a 3-5-2 of sorts, with the wingbacks playing a vital role in the success of the system. Tommy Redding adds a lot to this formation, giving the Red Bulls another option to put along side Michael Murillo, Aurelien Collin, and Fidel Escobar. Aaron Long was also a big favorite last season, so there is plenty of cover for the back line.
The midfield also has a wealth of options, especially considering the off season moves the club has made. Marc Rzatkowski has transferred from Red Bull Salzburg, with Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecort and Cristian Casseres Jr. also joining the team. With “Kaku” also on the horizon and the well-known names of Felipe, Sean Davis and Tyler Adams, the middle of the pitch will have so many options that Marsch will have a hard time picking his starters.
The attacking options are still a bit limited, but adding Carlos Rivas does give Marsch another great attacking option to use either alongside or in place of Bradley Wright-Phillips. Daniel Royer, should he stay healthy, will also play a big role in this system, often dropping deep to link up play with the other striker.
The 3-5-2 may seem like a solid fit for the team, but the lack of wingback options could be the downfall of the system. Kemar Lawrence and Connor Lade are the only real fullbacks the team is comfortable with, and Lade is not the most prolific moving forward. For this simple fact, a new system could be the answer for the club this season.
A 4-3-3 could be just the answer Marsch and his team need. The speed of Murillo and Escobar would allow them to play fullback if needed, allowing the backline to keep its depth and adding a bit of versatility. The three in the midfield could also have different roles depending on which set of players Marsch decides to use.
Tyler Adams and Felipe could play more defensive with likes of Rzatkowski and Sean Davis pushing further forward in more of a playmaker type role. The team could also play a flat three in midfield, allowing for rotation throughout the match, or just have one deeper midfielder, like Felipe, as a defensive cover, allowing the other two midfielders to advance.
The options in attack also allow for a bit of scrambling. Wright-Phillips and Rivas are the two obvious choices at central striker, but the wingers are a bit more of a challenge. Royer and Etienne Jr. are viable wing choices for Marsch to utilize, as both players have occupied those roles during their career. Home-grown player Amando Moreno would also be an option to consider. The 22-year-old re-signed with the Red Bulls this season after a couple of years in Tijuana, and would be much more likely to see the field should the team set up in this formation.
The other possible formation for the team would be a 4-2-2-2. With the defense staying relatively the same as the 4-3-3, the two midfielders in front of the backline would offer a nice bit of defensive cover. A player like Felipe could also start counter-attacks should he play in that area with his physicality on the ball and range of passing.
The other four attacking players leave a lot of room for creativity. With the exception of Wright-Phillips playing furthest forward, most of the other attacking midfielders and strikers can play in the slots left up top. They can cut in to the middle or stay wide, depending on their play style, and could easily swap positions during the match if needed.
With a few more preseason matches left, Marsch has time to find the exact squad he wants to take to Honduras at the end of the month. The formation he has decided to go with this season will be a big factor in choosing his team, but it will be exciting for both the fans and the players should Marsch decide to use a new system.