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Red Bulls Tactical Sips: Orlando City

What to watch for on the field as the Red Bulls face yet another one of the Eastern Conference’s best sides

SOCCER: MAY 22 MLS - New York Red Bulls at New England Revolution
Tom Edwards could prove to be a crucial asset for the Red Bulls both inside and outside the touchlines
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to Tactical Sips, a semi-regular pre-match post featuring taurine-spiked breakdowns of the upcoming game.

The alarm bells are ringing in Harrison. While that may be an overstatement, at least one should probably be making some noise after the New York Red Bulls’ 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution. Recently promoted center back Andrés Reyes demonstrated his immense potential and continued issues in the span of a single half with one goal and two yellow cards. The upcoming international break will be welcome for manager Gerhard Struber and his attempted tactical overhaul, but first he must contend with another soaring opponent.

Six matches into the season, Orlando City SC is undefeated and sitting comfortably at second place in the Eastern Conference. The Lions will be without the services of leading scorer and team captain Nani, who is serving a two-game suspension for “unwanted physical contact with a match official.” This is still an eminently capable squad teeming with serviceable talent, led by one of the league’s best managers in Óscar Pareja.

Let’s dive into the shallow depths. Here are three things to watch.

1. PLAYING WITHOUT NANI

There is nothing spectacular about Orlando City, excelling in no statistics and displaying no great tactical innovations. This is not an insult, as the club is coming off an appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals and has yet to lose this season. Pareja plays a very efficient style, focused on building out of the backs and through the wings.

Holding midfielder Jhegson Méndez is an accurate passer, tasked with starting the attack and capable of playing the type of long balls that evade the Red Bulls’ press. With Nani suspended for the match, the run of play will likely flow through Chris Mueller. The 24-year-old winger is one of the league’s best shot creators in the final third. As observed by Ben Miller of The Mane Land, Orlando’s success will largely be dependent on Tesho Akindele taking advantage of scoring opportunities.

2. THROW-INS

Fullback Tom Edwards was presumably loaned to the Red Bulls with the intention of taking full advantage of his crossing proficiency. He built a reputation at Stoke for accurately delivering the ball from the wing, but against New England another weapon in his arsenal was on full display. The 22-year-old Staffordshire native unleashed a few long throw-ins, the delightfully overlooked re-starts that are only an available asset with the proper personnel.

Struber – ever the stereotypical Red Bull acolyte – has a penchant for creative routines, recognizing set pieces as a chance to build an advantage over less disciplined opponents. His Barnsley side was particularly effective from sideline restarts, designing plays on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. As the press forces turnovers and awkward clearances out of bounds, every throw-in can now become a scoring opportunity, especially if the center backs are given the green light to enter the final third.

3. PARK THE BUS

Despite being undefeated, only once has Orlando scored more than a single goal in a match this season. Perhaps that has something to do with star striker Daryl Dike dominating the Championship while on loan at Barnsley. The defense has been stout, surrendering a mere two goals. Neither came in the run of play, with New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City respectively benefitting from a penalty and an ensuing scramble after a free kick. When healthy, the back line of Ruan, Antonio Carlos, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle has been dominant.

Orlando is not shy about maintaining a compact formation, drawing criticism from defeated opponents for parking the bus. While the Red Bulls historically struggle against teams that clog the defensive third, this is a slightly different squad make-up from past seasons. Fábio and his strike-partner-to-be-named-later are capable of winning the ball in the box, unless it’s Daniel Royer. Tom Edwards is a more than capable crosser, which should challenge an opponent that has not dealt with too much pressure in 2021.

What tactical storylines are you expecting to play out in the match? Let us know in the comment section.