Ahead of tonight’s MLS Cup playoff matchup with Columbus, we spoke to Patrick Murphy (@_pat_murphy) of SB’s Crew site Massive Report to let Red Bulls fans know what to expect from the Ohio side tonight.
What has been behind the Crew’s turnaround this season after such a bumpy first year under Caleb Porter? Which players, tactical adjustments, or other factors have helped the team go from missing the playoffs to one of the league’s best sides this year?
Murphy: It was really about getting the players that fit Porter’s style more than anything. As much as Porter and former head coach Gregg Berhalter play similarly in terms of formation and possession, the group that was left behind by the U.S. Men’s National Team coach did not work last year. Beginning last summer, Porter started to clean house, shipping out a number of players and bringing in others. And Crew fans saw results shift late in the year, so the expectation was that this would be a better season.
With that said, I have to mention the additions of Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan. When the two Designated Players were on the field together, this team could play the way it wanted, keeping the ball and creating dangerous attacks. They made this Columbus side very dangerous and fit well with what Porter wants to do.
Red Bulls fans will be wondering if we should expect to see our academy product Derrick Etienne in the lineup Saturday. Will he feature for Columbus and what can we expect now that he’s in the groove with his new club?
Murphy: Yes, and there’s a good chance he starts the game depending on what Porter elects to do on the right. Etienne was a pretty sizeable piece for the Crew this year and played in 20 of the last 21 games. He has been rather good on the right wing. While one goal and two assists wouldn’t tell you that, Etienne gave the Black & Gold a different option from Luis Diaz throughout the year and will contribute however far this team goes in the playoffs.
If the Crew advance on Saturday, how will it happen? Which players will have to step up and which areas of the game will Columbus have to tighten up to ensure success?
Murphy: I already mentioned Nagbe and Zelarayan’s importance above. The other two I would say are Jonathan Mensah and Gyasi Zardes.