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Marsch must rotate without compromising the midfield

Playing with a lone defensive midfielder has failed the Red Bulls multiple times this season

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy
Sean Davis started alone in the defensive midfield in two matches this season. The first (pictured above), a 3-2 win over the L.A. Galaxy, on April 28. The second, a 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution, on June 2.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday evening, in Foxborough, Mass., for the first time since April 28, Jesse Marsch diverted from the 10 field players that had combined in a 4-2-3-1 formation to produce a record of 4-0-1 over five games. The fourth-year Red Bulls head coach was forced into a change, because of the absence of Michael Amir Murillo, Tyler Adams and Tim Parker, with all three away with national team obligations.

Marsch was not, however, forced into a change in formation, but that is exactly what he did. His formation on Saturday, a diamond 4-4-2, added Aurélien Collin and Connor Lade to the backline, Vincent Bezecourt to one of the outside points of the midfield, and Derrick Etienne Jr. up top, to complement Bradley Wright-Phillips. Most crucially, though, it left Sean Davis without much support in the center of the defensive midfield, which was a formula to end a five-match unbeaten run.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New England Revolution
Jesse Marsch reacts to the New England Revolution’s game-winning goal, in the 78th minute. The fourth-year Red Bulls coach will be without three players from his preferred starting 11, when his side takes the field in the U.S. Open Cup on June 6.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Back on April 28, the Red Bulls started that five-match streak, narrowly getting past the L.A. Galaxy, 3-2. Marsch elected to trust Sean Davis as the lone holding midfielder in that game as well; however, circumstances were different. Against the Galaxy, the 25-year-old Davis had three central defenders behind him, and for 45 minutes, the defense bent but did not break.

However, once the team made a bold substitute at halftime of that game, taking off Collin and bringing in Florian Valot, the Red Bulls doubled their lead through Valot in the 49th minute, only to see it erased in a span of 17 minutes, with the defense compromised after the loss of the extra defender.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy
Florian Valot’s half-time sub against the L.A. Galaxy, on April 28, was a double-edged sword for Jesse Marsch. While it paid off immediately with a 49th minute goal (pictured above), it also left the backline exposed, and the Red Bulls conceded two goals in the 59th and 66th minute.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Before that 3-2 win over the Galaxy, New York tried Tyler Adams as a lone holding midfielder in its first leg against C.D. Guadalajara on April 4. The passing in that game was extraordinarily bad, as the Red Bulls connected on only 48 percent of passes in the attacking half and 39 percent of passes in the final third.

This past Saturday, despite scoring one more goal than it had against the Philadelphia Union on May 26, the Red Bulls’ offense hit rock bottom again, with 47 percent pass accuracy in the attacking half and 48 percent pass accuracy in the final third. For the third time this season, the offense passed below 50 percent in both the attacking half and the final third, which is something the team did not do in all of 2017.

Crossing also continued to be an issue, as New York followed up a rate of 13 percent accuracy against the Union with a rate of eight percent accuracy against the Revolution. The one connection, an eighth minute curling ball from, coincidentally, Davis, found a leaping Wright-Phillips, who powered the ball into the net. The goal was a moment of magic, amidst a night of offensive futility.

“I think to sum up the game, there was not enough good performances, or, you know, final-play-creation, it just wasn’t enough today,” Wright-Phillips said after the match.

Luckily, the Red Bulls have a quick turnaround to their next game, a reality that every team yearns for following a dropped result or two. That game will take place on Wednesday, June 6, and there will be no shortage of adrenaline, as New York’s opponent will be crosstown nemesis, New York City FC. After meeting in the league as recently as May 5, this match will determine which Big Apple club reaches the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a tournament in which the Red Bulls advanced to the final, in 2017.

“I think we can take a lot from that [Open Cup] run,” Ryan Meara said after the match. “Obviously, we want to do it again, but, we know it’s one game at a time. And, you know, you look at that run last year, and I think each game was decided by one goal, if I’m not mistaken.”

“So, you know, we want to make that run again, but we know it starts Wednesday, and, you’re only as good as, you know, the game in front of you,” Meara said.

The Red Bulls offense was not flawless in their last meeting with City FC; however, the sport is result-driven, and tallying four goals in a grudge match, with two in the opening four minutes, garnered momentum that the team used for back-to-back road wins.

However, with two dropped results in its other most recent home games, in addition to the absence of Murillo for the duration of Panama’s World Cup run, a New York performance akin to its previous encounter with City FC will be exactly what the doctor ordered. To do that, though, the Red Bulls need to make a few adjustments from their 2-1 loss to New England, with perhaps the most pressing being, giving Sean Davis support in the midfield.