Welcome to Tactical Sips, a semi-regular pre-match post featuring taurine-spiked breakdowns of the upcoming game.
A lot can change in a week. Before taking on the Philadelphia Union, the New York Red Bulls were on a two-match winning streak and appeared to be rounding into form. After a disheartening 1-0 defeat, Gerhard Struber’s team is facing more questions, without the help of Aaron Long to answer them. From the tundra of Twitter to the fields of Facebook and under the depths of Discord, a single ninth minute goal, scored mainly due to a goalkeeping error, has shaken the snow globe of New York soccer.
This week’s opponent is the Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution, sporting a 3-1-2 record coming off a 1-0 result over current title-holders Columbus Crew SC. Shrewd roster building has yielded a dangerous yet balanced squad of veteran internationals and underrated domestic talents. Almost two years into Bruce Arena’s tenure, this could be the year that Major League Soccer’s bridesmaid finally gets its day on the altar.
Let’s dive into the shallow depths. Here are three things to watch.
1) Who will start at center back?
There is no such thing as an easy role in the labor intensive gegenpress, but center back is one of the harder positions to play. Tasked primarily with putting out fires after the opponent surpasses the advanced pressing players, a poorly angled run or mistaken touch almost certainly leads to a chance on goal. A system designed to create chaos intentionally lets the steam out by accepting several counter-attacks will happen, a design flaw that is managed and minimized by prioritizing the back line in the transfer window. The appearance of heading into the 2021 season without a defined plan could be viewed as a mistake that has already reared its ugly head.
With Aaron Long out for the rest of the year, the Red Bulls will clearly sign at least one new center back in the near future. The immediate issue is what to do until this replacement is procured. Amro Tarek could slot in next to Sean Nealis, who will now be expected to lead the back line. There’s also the reserve team partnership of Andrés Reyes and Mandela Egbo, a move that would not inspire much confidence considering both were incapable of reaching the first team this season. The upcoming international break should at least provide more time to figure out a slightly longer-term solution.
The center back issue will only be compounded if starting left back Andrew Gutman is not ready to return from his injury. After the match against Philadelphia, Struber said the on-loan player should be healthy again soon. Woe to the back line if he is out of the lineup for a second consecutive week because the alternate options have not performed well in his stead.
2) Carles Gil is good
Prowling the space behind the striker, the Revolution attack runs through Carles Gil. The 29-year-old Spaniard might be the league’s best player in the final third, topping the table in passes leading to a shot, progressive passes, and completed passes in the 18-yard box. His technical ability should give the Red Bulls defense fits, especially if New England is able to establish possession. He will hold up possession for as long as necessary, dancing around opponents until threading a perfectly weighted ball through or over the back line.
For all of the Revolution’s success through the eternity that is six matches, striker Adam Buksa is yet to get off on the right foot. The favored target man has scored two goals but “had some struggles in his finishing.” His teammates have picked up the slack, spreading out the scoring responsibility. Despite the noted underwhelming performances, the former Polish youth international has the second most successful aerial duels in MLS. That statistical category is currently led by Aaron Long, which indicates the possibility of future issues defending crosses, long balls, and all manner of combat, unless Nealis and Tarek drastically improve.
3) The Red Bulls attackers are in a position to do well
Of the six goals New England conceded this season, four were a direct result of long balls and field switches leading to a cross or an incisive run cutting in from the wing. In May 8th’s 2-0 win, Nashville SC had success pouncing on the back line’s mistakes and misplayed passes. Is there a team that is designed to take advantage of such opportunities?
Struber has made a point of implementing an up-tempo vertical style, focusing on the strikers chasing long, speculative passes to the wings while the fullbacks push into the final third to provide an overlapping option. New England’s back line has a bad habit of not challenging and surrendering too much space to the opponent, allowing players to collect the ball or knock it down to a teammate. Expect the flow of the attack to focus on the right side of the defense and play the ball into the box, as almost every surrendered goal has followed that same pattern by taking advantage of Jonathan Bell and 5’9” fullback DeJuan Jones. Against a defense highly susceptible to his dual natured inside-outside skillset, Fábio and his striker partner-to-be-named-later could have another great day at the office.
What tactical storylines are you expecting to play out in the match? Let us know in the comment section