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Red Bulls Tactical Sips: New York City FC

Will the Red Bulls pop high-flying City’s balloon in Saturday’s derby?

SOCCER: JUL 31 MLS - New England Revolution at New York Red Bulls
Gerhard Struber must get his players moving forward to join attacks.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

John Tolkin and Carlos Coronel played the heroes when the New York Red Bulls ended the skid with a 1-0 win over Columbus Crew SC. Were three points secured from the deployment of a five-player back line, the return of key defenders from injury, the presence of a weaker opponent, or some combination of reasons? There is no time to assess mid-week matches as there is another mountain to climb, one that features the fanfare of a rival.

The Hudson River Derby is back for the 19th edition in seven seasons. The magic of those initial years may be long gone, but everyone still attends these regular gatherings and pretends there’s still that familiar passion. Perhaps plugging into the memory of sandwich boards and broomsticks is preferable to existing in the trudging mediocrity of the now. I feel old.

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

NEW YORK CITY FC IS… GOOD

To the surprise of many, big names are not required to compete in MLS. NYCFC is third place in the Eastern Conference with 31 points from 19 matches. Ronny Deila has his team playing decidedly decent soccer, sometimes even branching out into the realm of very good. Perhaps the midweek 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union could start a bad run of form.

The Pigeons do a lot of things well in the attack. They’re constantly creating chances, topping or near the pinnacle in possibly meaningful statistical categories such as progressive passes, key passes, completed passes in the box, and shot creating actions. The goals also come in a variety of ways, through fast breaks, diagonal crosses, and the slower generalized build-up.

NYCFC could be even better on the defensive side of the ball, allowing the least amount of goals in the conference. Perhaps this is attributed to the back line’s ability to prevent shots, currently allowing a miserly total of 150. The next closest team is D.C. United with 189. The attackers also press the opponent and will capitalize by quickly transitioning from turnovers into fast breaks.

Despite this season being a bit on the dismal side, Gerhard Struber has yet to be truly embarrassed. This match has the potential to get ugly, particularly if NYCFC scores early. The Red Bulls appear incapable of keeping pace in a back-and-forth battle, which ideally should be the team’s strength.

MISSING NUMBERS

Attempting to diagnose what ails the Red Bulls is a popular hobby these days, with good reason. Whatever the implemented system entails, the team is struggling to find success and thrive under the new demands. In an attempt to see what is or is not happening, I went backwards, watching some Barnsley matches. There’s one key, minor difference, at least on the attack.

(via Barnsley FC YouTube channel)

(Ibid)

Barnsley did not always require dynamic shuttlers making streaking dribbling runs like Leipzig, instead often relying on those familiar long balls and crosses. However, when the Championship club got forward, there were several options crowding into the final third. In the former image, there’s even an additional wide player just off-screen on the left. Compare that to a recent Red Bulls match against New England.

(via Major League Soccer YouTube channel)

After a brief scrum, Fábio finds himself with the ball. He should have quite the group of teammates running with him. I wonder how many join him in his journey forward.

(Ibid)

The answer is two. Only two Red Bulls joined the attack and pushed forward, allowing New England to maintain an overwhelming numerical superiority. Fábio settled for a long-range effort that went over the crossbar.

Against CF Montréal, the Red Bulls managed to transition quickly and get enough numbers forward. Caden Clark was able to carry the ball vertically and pick the right pass, cycling through an array of teammates. He found an open Andrew Gutman on the wing, who drew a penalty. Just look at the white jerseys and how spread out they are, drawing defenders. The eventual recipient has yet to appear, but also observe the multitude of options if the fullback elected to cross.

(via Major League Soccer YouTube channel)

(Ibid)

To explain the situation in the crowd-pleasing language of elaborately confusing mixed metaphors, the final third is often closer to the ratio of human survivors to zombies in a post-apocalypse than a crowded office building elevator or rugby formation (all of those mental visuals work, I promise - choose your own definition of mental.) Patryk Klimala and Fábio may chase passes or find themselves in possession, but the options are usually quite limited which results in failure. For midfielders, the best decision from bad choices is often to force a low-percent shot from distance. To emulate the moderate attacking success of Barnsley, more players have to get forward and overwhelm the opposing defense, an admittedly difficult demand of tired players on a thin roster.

THEIR LEFT AND YOUR RIGHT

Of the last five goals surrendered by NYCFC, four are the result of errors on the left side of the field. There has been poor marking on crosses, rash tackles, and a few issues with stopping the general flow of traffic. Fullback Malte Amundsen has been fine, even possibly very good, but his work in the final third leaves a lot to be desired. Don’t be surprised if Gudmundur Thórarinsson ultimately gets the start in the derby, a player who provides less of an attacking presence.

Kyle Duncan should feast if he manages to get into the final third and receives the opportunity to display his dribbling abilities. That is, unless Tom Edwards is finally able to line up at right back. After several months lined up centrally, the 22-year-old may be able to return to his primary position for the purpose of whipping in crosses.

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