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Red Bulls Tactical Sips: CF Montréal

Will the Quebec side be the team New York can finally break their slump against?

MLS: Atlanta United FC at CF Montreal
Jersey native Mason Toye (13) has been a revelation for a surprising Montreal side this year.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

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

The New York Red Bulls reeled off yet another disappointing result against Chicago Fire FC, losing 2-1 at Soldier Field. Not since Jim Phelps lifted a bible from the Drake Hotel has an unwelcome gift from the Windy City caused such turmoil and soul-searching. Blame has been placed at the feet of everyone from Gerhard Struber all the way up to owner Dietrich Mateschitz, perhaps a slightly too early yet fully deserved group rumination. As host Fernando Gonzalez observed on MetroFanTV, there has yet to be a truly embarrassing blowout loss, merely an unending stretch of frustrating results with little reason for optimism.

This week’s opponent is CF Montréal, likely to be competing with the Red Bulls for the final playoff spot in a few months. Led by first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, the former academy coach is a refreshing change of pace following the resignation of Thierry Henry. The team is currently on a bit of a slide, winless in the past five matches. However, securing points will be anything but easy, as trips to Canada have the tension of a journey down the Fury Road.

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

1) BIG MOVE PAYS OFF

During the winter transfer window, Montréal paid relatively big money to acquire Đorđe Mihailović from Chicago. The 22-year-old midfielder and sometime U.S. international had stagnated at his childhood club, needing a change of scenery. If anything, they didn’t pay enough, with the player thriving under his role that promises more tactical freedom. He is often the entry point into the final third, checking back to receive a pass and dictating in which direction the attack will move.

Through 18 matches, Mihailović has three goals and five assists, becoming a true creative presence. He is one of the league’s top players in the key pass and shot-creating action categories, frequently playing medium-range balls in the final third. Other intriguing statistics of note include “high-speed distance runs per game,” which could trouble a back line that has struggled to shut down fast breaks and midfield maestros.

2) A CHANCE TO SCORE

This has not been the best run of form for the Red Bulls, particularly the striker pairing. The hold-up play is below par, nobody is scoring, and so on and so on and so on. However, this could once again be the fixture that lights those once-raging fires.

Montréal’s back line is… not the best at handling things. The center backs, typically aligned in a 3-5-2, struggle with physical attackers, frequently getting run over when not surrendering penalties. Set pieces are also an issue, which should, again, be helpful to the Red Bulls. The team also attempts to play possession, giving the ball away in thoroughly dangerous areas, begging for the right opponent to take advantage.

At some point, Patryk Klimala and Fábio need to break out of this funk. When choosing to ignore the basic numbers, they perform quite admirably at a difficult role, with little support from an overmatched midfield. Constantly chasing long balls can be a draining, unrewarding task that leads to deep frustration. Their continual pursuit is admirable, but unfortunately the only two numbers that matter for strikers are goals and assists, and the latter barely so.

3) LONG THROW-INS

There was a minor media spike a few months ago about Tom Edwards becoming a bigger part of the attack, most noticeably with his long throw-ins. The unique skill was tutored by renowned specialist Rory Delap, describing the Herculean hurls as “another one of [his] attributes that [he] can hopefully help the team with.” Those hoping for the Matrix-style glitch to make an appearance have gone sorely wanting.

There have been several opportunities, particularly late in games, where the Red Bulls have received a throw-in located in the final third. Edwards has not made the run up the field to deliver the ball into the box, with the team instead relying on the usual short-range tosses. Perhaps this is a result of his move to center back, the location of signage boards at certain stadiums, or the desperate desire to protect against counter attacks, but surely someone would be able to provide cover during these brief ventures forward, especially in light of the potential gain.

The basic logic of the situation seems quite confusing. The Red Bulls are struggling to score, lacking cohesion and individual magic. The team specifically deploys two ball-winning strikers and has no issue with taller defenders making the occasional foray into the final third. A long-throw from Edwards would at least bring the ball closer to the desired area and potentially create the chaos leading to a goal. Choosing to not turn these dead ball opportunities into true set pieces seems like wasted potential.

When Gerhard Struber was hired, there was discussion of his creativity and dizzying array of routines, likely a holdover from his previous tenure at Red Bull. In light of the drought, not taking advantage of Edwards’ unique ability is puzzling, continuing a common theme this season. The next time the team is down a goal, or several, perhaps one of those many, many deep throw-ins should be allocated to a more speculative attempt. When the entire attack is already almost solely geared toward such low percent efforts, what’s one more at a time when and location where success is marginally more possible?

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