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Red Bulls need to rediscover production from wide areas

New York’s crossing has dropped off considerably since its 3-1 win in Atlanta.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC
Florian Valot and the Red Bulls continue to acclimate to the intense summer weather. On Saturday, the game turned in their favor in the second half, when the clouds covered the sun over Mapfre Stadium.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls used tremendous road form to help catapult themselves from a 3-3 record to among the top in the Eastern Conference. However, in two recent road trips, the Red Bulls have not been able to replicate the wide production that helped lead them to capturing nine points out of nine in three consecutive road wins.

The Red Bulls late-April/early-May turnaround was characterized by road performances where the opposition in most cases had the better of possession, but in which the Red Bulls were more lethal in their delivery from the outside. Following New York’s 3-1 win against Atlanta, though, production from wide areas has dried up.

There seems to be a catalogue of reasons as to why in the past three league games, the Red Bulls have only connected on an average of 10.3 percent of their crosses, well below the 55 percent they managed against the Rapids, the 41 percent against Atlanta, or even the 33 percent against the Galaxy.

The first factor became clear after the Red Bulls’ 0-0 draw with the Union on May 26, in Red Bull Arena.

“It’s the first hot game of the season, [it is] really hard,” Florian Valot said after that match. “There’s no breeze on the field, [it is] hard to breathe. And with the type of play, the type of tactic we play, with a lot of running, it’s kind of hard sometimes to catch your breath.”

And so, heat can explain the relative drop-off in why a team – which relies on out-working its opponents – is struggling to re-create the methodical pressing attacks, with players making dangerous runs into the box.

On Saturday afternoon, amid debilitating heat in Columbus, Ohio, the Red Bulls were on track for a miserable result after 45 minutes. Columbus Crew SC hit every rod of the woodwork stanchion aside from one post in the first half, peppering Luis Robles with 15 shots, six of which were on-goal, before Robles and the Red Bulls could reach the locker room to regroup.

When the Red Bulls finally heard the halftime whistle, they were only down 1-0. And, as if the score-line was not merciful enough, conditions were about to turn in the Red Bulls favor.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC
Luis Robles made five saves in his return to the lineup on Saturday, following a four-game spell on the sideline due to a knee ailment, which ended his “Ironman” streak of 183 consecutive games started in MLS.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

“The way the guys found some form of energy to finish out the first 45 was, was inspiring,” Luis Robles said after the match. “But, even with that being said, as I was walking in, I saw that the cloud cover was coming, I just knew it was going to be a different half, in the second half.”

The dark clouds that covered Mapfre Stadium during the second half proved to be a saving grace, as New York was a different side compared to the opening 45 minutes. With more energy and a smart tactical switch to five at the back by Jesse Marsch – which helped shut down Crew SC wingers Pedro Santos and Mike Grella – the Red Bulls got their equalizer in the 57th minute, through a set-piece header from Alex Muyl.

Even with the change of tactics and nod from Mother Nature, though, the Red Bulls were a fatigued side that was nowhere near the team that took wins in Los Angeles, Colorado and Atlanta.

The wide production, which struggled for the third consecutive league game, is also impacted by the absence of right back Michael Amir Murillo, who left after the draw with the Union, to prepare for the World Cup with his Panamanian national team.

While no one can provide the same level of two-way ability in the right-back position as Murillo, and Mother Nature will rarely be as kind as she was on Saturday, one change that can happen is getting Bradley Wright-Phillips more of the ball in areas where he can create.

In both wins over the Rapids and Galaxy, Wright-Phillips provided early crosses to Daniel Royer, who scored goals in the fifth and seventh minute of those games, to give New York the lead. In addition, against the Galaxy, Wright-Phillips centered a pass to Florian Valot, who scored the team’s second goal on the day in the 49th minute.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC
Bradley Wright-Phillips had only one shot on Saturday, and fell behind Crew SC forward Gyasi Zardes for second in the MLS Golden Boot race. Wright-Phillips has scored nine goals this season and assisted on an additional five.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Wright-Phillips can also be committed to making runs like he did against Atlanta United, when a 51st minute run into the box found a Michael Amir Murillo cross, and a 55th minute sprint at goal found a cross from Alejandro Romero Gamarra, with Wright-Phillips heading in both.

In recent times, there have been two types of home games. The first is the pair of dominating 4-0 wins over New York City FC, in MLS and U.S. Open Cup competition, on May 5 and June 6. In those games, the Red Bulls were able to score within two minutes, setting the tone for the game.

Admittedly, in those games, the average cross accuracy was only five percent, and it played little bearing in a combined 8-0 aggregate triumph for the Red Bulls.

However, if New York does not score early in its next home game on Wednesday night, against the Seattle Sounders, the game may revert to the kind seen when the Red Bulls drew the Union, 0-0. To avoid that, the Red Bulls will need to spark some sort of production from their wide area, by whatever means necessary.