The sporting world is slowly being brought back to life in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic. Major League Soccer resumed the 2020 season with the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida. This unprecedented and likely never-to-be-repeated competition provides unique challenges on and off the field. New York Red Bulls already utilize what some consider unique tactics and disciplines, but is it possible these will change in the Sunshine State following a long layoff?
Here are three things to watch heading into the Red Bulls’ first match at the MLS is Back Tournament.
HIGH PRESS, LOW PRESS, NO PRESS?
To even the most casual observer, Chris Armas has noticeably opted for a more possession-based attack and has not been shy about occasionally putting aside the high press. The Florida heat and assumed lack of fitness may push the club further away from the up-tempo Red Bull style and into something more traditional. The line of engagement has already been moved back and now it might drop to all the way to the center circle.
On the other hand, this tournament may provide the perfect setting for controlled chaos to reign. Other teams will be similarly out of shape, rusty, and hoping to play things safe. The high press thrives on blocking passing lanes to create turnovers and force low percentage clearances. Any team attempting to play it out of the back is not only inviting danger, but welcoming it into their final third and offering some cookies and lemonade. If the Red Bulls are going to win the MLS is Back Tournament, then their high pressing DNA may be the key.
Defensive backlines in a high-press are often left on an island, forced to put out fires and deal with multiple breakout counter-attacks every match. Chemistry is required: defenders work off each other, connect on passes, and coordinate marking on-rushing opposing attackers. Will the covid-19 layoff result in communication issues for the Red Bulls? There may be more misplayed balls or mental errors than we’re used to seeing...or the backline will fall right back into its rhythm because, after all, these are professionals at the top of their employment field who won’t be derailed by a pandemic.
Lineup choices should also be considered. Which two center backs will be starting among the trio of Tim Parker, Aaron Long, and Amro Tarek? Parker and Long have been the preferred choice, but Tarek has quietly impressed every time he’s stepped on the field. Don’t be surprised to see the Egyptian-American slotted in at fullback to add a safe veteran presence who doesn’t venture into the attack as frequently.
Another question is the left back position. Patrick Seagrist started the first two matches of the season, but likely hasn’t locked down a spot in the starting lineup. The Red Bulls signed French-Vietnamese defender Jason Pendant from Sochaux who should, in theory, challenge for minutes. Will Chris Armas choose to play the newcomer in Florida or will he stick with the comfortable choice Seagrist, who has played a mere two matches?
GOALS, GOALS, GOALS
You can’t win if you don’t score; the best you can do is draw. Now that the obvious has been belabored, where will the goals come from for the Red Bulls? Brian White is a serviceable striker with double digit potential, but fans still cry out for a pedigreed goal scorer and the team has been connected with several target men in the transfer market. Daniel Royer is a consistent option at the second striker position and is within a reasonable distance of becoming the club’s second-leading goal scorer of all-time. Ideally, they will continue to work together at the top of the 4-2-2-2 and build a strong bond that lasts for the next few years.
Expect platoon scoring to continue for the time being. In which case, a third option is desperately needed to regularly contribute to the score sheet. Perhaps that will be assist man Kaku or the recently rejuvenated Florian Valot. In the past, set pieces have also been a spesh-ee-al-uh-tay of the Red Bulls. Perhaps Chris Armas has been using the quarantine lockdown and his time with the team in Disney World to conjure up some inventive set pieces.
What challenges do you think the Red Bulls will face in Florida? Will it be business as usual in the tactics department?