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Red Bulls 1-1 DC United: going with hearsay in final preseason match

Daniel Royer penalty equalizes after Erik Sorga opener in only in-stadium tune up ahead of 2021 season

DC United v New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls and DC United last clashed in the public eye in Harrison for a match on September 2nd last season
Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

During a shortened preseason in which cancelled scrimmages and pandemic logistical restrictions have kept the New York Red Bulls almost entirely out of view as they enter a new era under manager Gerhard Struber, the heavily-overhauled squad has been stuck as a creature of fascinated gossip for fans and observers. In an era when social media and smartphones give fans access to practically any team in the world’s action whether they like it or not, New York fans have been able to relive what it was like in the past when you had no idea who was getting off the boat for the World Cup every four years.

While the Red Bulls returned to Harrison on Saturday afternoon with a small amount of tickets allocated to supporters groups, no press or television crews were present, leaving fans and observers to turn their dial/scroll their way to hearing the team on the airwaves. We at Once A Metro were no different as we paid homage to the Howard 100 News Network and endeavored to cover your Red Bulls using only their in-house radio show. Longtime club broadcaster Matt Harmon provided stellar one-man booth coverage for the Red Bulls Radio Network as the team played to a 1-1 draw with rivals DC United in the final match of a heavily-abridged preseason.

Without disrespecting the sporting knowledge of generations yore, there’s only so much one can learn (especially about the tactical end) without the visual aspects of a soccer match, something a Red Bulls team that has imported a number of video analysts this offseason would attest to. But through Harmon’s detailed commentary, one was able to learn several key details of a new-look Red Bulls team that will debut in the league next Saturday night against Kansas City largely unknown.

From Red Bulls to diamond dogs?

As expected, Struber’s team hit the field with a narrow midfield diamond formation. Sean Davis settled in a the deepest midfielder at the base of the diamond even after the entry of Youba Diarra, a loan signing from Salzburg known as a more defensive-minded midfielder himself. Cristian Cásseres and Florian Valot started out as the shuttlers ahead of Davis while second-year Caden Clark played almost a full match as the creative spearhead at the top of the diamond.

While the deployment of Davis implies that Struber may view his deepest midfielder as more of a ball-circulating steering wheel than an ancillary center back, one should probably wait to confirm this until better getting an idea of Dru Yearwood’s status. The English designated player signing did not appear in Saturday’s game, with Harmon noting that he only occasionally had been warming up, implying a minor injury.

Fabio and Harper earliest newcomers to stand out

One of the more intriguing questions that has gone largely impossible to answer for Red Bulls fans this preseason is what role Cameron Harper will play. The California-born winger who recently joined after a youth career at Celtic FC of Scotland was able to produce in his first showcase for New York fans. Traditionally a speedy dribble-focused winger, Gerhard Struber stated last month that he planned to create a variety of tactical roles for Harper, with the first being subbing him on for Cásseres as a shuttling central midfielder in the diamond.

Harper was noted by Harmon for incisive cuts and combinations with right back Kyle Duncan, and it was a Harper dribble that drew New York’s penalty to equalize shortly after his entry. Noteworthy about the spot kick that followed was that Royer had to politely wave off newly-arrived Brazilian striker Fábio Gomes Netto, who Harmon noted had picked up the ball and walked to the penalty spot first after the referee’s signal. While Royer (who notably replaced striker Brian White rather than a midfielder upon his substitute entry) affirmed his incumbent status by firing the penalty past DC’s Chris Seitz, the daring shown by Fábio just a week after his arrival in training speaks well to his confidence ahead of the season.

Backline appears settled...almost

Of the five players who went the full ninety minutes in Harrison on Saturday afternoon, four were members of the defensive unit. Left back Andrew Gutman, left-footed center back Amro Tarek, and right back Kyle Duncan joined goalkeeper Carlos Coronel as the players most likely to be getting conditioned for a starting role against Kansas City next week. The lone non-defender to go the distance was deep midfielder Sean Davis. While the Red Bulls surrendered a goal to Chris Armas curtain drawer Erik Sorga in what Harmon described as a transition breakdown, the backline appears to have settled after giving up 3 goals to Miami of USL in a Florida scrimmage last month.

Squad stalwart Aaron Long, fitter than the rest of the team following action with the United States national side over the offseason, played only the first half before giving way to the Andrés Reyes, signed from Atlético Nacional in January. Though Struber and Red Bulls sporting chief Kevin Thelwell have praised Reyes physical and technical attributes in press conferences so far this year, the lineup selection on Saturday perhaps implies that the young Colombian will begin as a rotation option, with the MLS veteran Tarek partnering Long as the young team gets settled in the early part of the season.

Right back Tom Edwards, signed on a loan from Stoke City in February, remains the final new Red Bulls signing who is yet to obtain proper visa paperwork to join the team on the field. Kyle Duncan will hope the lack of immediate pressure on his role can lead to a continuation of his bright form at the end of 2020.