Welcome to Tactical Sips, a semi-regular pre-match post featuring taurine-spiked breakdowns of the upcoming game.
The international break is dead. Long live the international break.
The New York Red Bulls started the season with two losses. Then the club won two matches. Next, Gerhard Struber’s side dropped two fixtures. Following the most recent 2-1 victory over Orlando City SC, one can reasonably assume that three points are all but assured.
That is what we call statistics.
This week’s opponent is the undefeated Nashville SC. Sporting a record of two wins, zero losses, and five draws, the second-year team is currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Manager Gary Smith has assembled a throwback squad that gets bodies behind the ball on the defensive side and breaks out with dynamic attackers.
Let’s dive into the shallow depths. Here are four things to watch.
- PRESSING, VERTICALITY, AND LONG BALLS
Nashville is pretty decent defensively, with no glaring weaknesses or issues. However, like all teams that play the ball out of the back, there is the occasional opportunity for a counter attack after a bad giveaway. The Red Bulls will have to take advantage of these opportunities, as they will not be frequent.
Pushing the tempo will also be important because Nashville has a tendency to clog the defensive third. Atlanta United was able to move fast in transition, quickly moving up the field with a few quick passes or dribbles. Other teams had success starting wide and rapidly cutting inward to overrun the center midfielders. There may be some effort required, but the Red Bulls can pick this lock and have the personnel to perform the task.
2. LONG BREAK
With several weeks and a closed-door friendly against D.C. United to work with his team, expect something strange and wonderful to emerge from the cauldron of Gerhard Struber. Perhaps there is going to be a flashy set piece design or a tweak to the formation. Three weeks in the middle of the season is an eternity for a manager to work with his squad and make adjustments.
One particular area of concern is the back line, a statement that could be applied during almost any season in the history of the club. So far, using Tom Edwards at center back has been a successful experiment. His experience and technical ability has been an upgrade at the position, masking whatever deficiencies he may harbor. Could this extended break lead to a return of the three/five-player back line that has been utilized by Struber and is so beloved by head of sport Kevin Thelwell?
3. CHALLENGE FOR KYLE DUNCAN AND/OR ETC.
Nashville tends to build the attack through the left side of the field. Costa Rican international midfielder Randall Leal is one of league’s most proactively creative players, capable of jumpstarting the counter and breaking past a back line. He’s willing to shoot from distance and is due for a few more goals, unrestrained by Puritanical notions of prudence and traditional positioning. Left back Daniel Lovitz is similarly dangerous moving forward, constantly overlapping on the wing. His 26 “Shot-Creating Actions” are the second most on the team, behind his izquierda partner.
Red Bulls fullback Kyle Duncan is at his best in the final third, storming down the touch-line and combining in possession. That’s not to say he’s a pushover on defense. The 23-year-old is routinely one of the team’s top tacklers, which is no easy task considering how physically taxing his role in the gegenpress can be. With and without Andrew Gutman in the lineup, opponents have been targeting the left side of the field, but Nashville should be the first true challenge for the formation’s opposite hemisphere.
4. THE PAIRING
Red Bulls fans and media are at least slightly interested in seeing Fábio and Klimala play together. With the former’s loan extended through the end of the season, the two can form Struber’s ideal Two Towers striker pairing, rendering back lines unable to stand against the strength of Isengard and Mordor. Neither are going to stuff the stat sheet, but their combined work rates and physical prowess will push defenders to their breaking points.
The likely beneficiary of their play will be Caden Clark, who has thrived when stepping into the top of the box and grabbing the glory. Whether through layoffs, rebounds, or the simple opening of space created by the strikers, the young midfielder will have even less attention on him. With Cristian Cásseres Jr. on international duty, look for Dru Yearwood to also push forward and get a few opportunities.
What tactical storylines are you expecting to play out in the match? Let us know in the comment section.