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Red Bulls Tactical Sips: FC Cincinnati

The top-heavy but uneven Ohio side makes their first visit to Harrison since last year’s season opener

Syndication: The Enquirer
Legendary Dutch defender Jaap Stam has had a more difficult experience as a manager in Cincinnati.
Albert Cesare / The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

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

The New York Red Bulls hosted the New England Revolution at home and lost by a 3-2 margin, surrendering two late goals. Crushing defeat does not always inspire poetic prose or engaging rhetoric. Basic facts of a situation resonate to far greater depth than can be reached by flowery wordsmithery. Four points of the final playoff spot and a match in hand is not an insurmountable distance, but the switch must be flipped soon. This week’s underwhelming opponent presents the opportunity to get back on track.

The good news for FC Cincinnati is that this is the best season in club history. The bad news is that they still stink. The decent start to the year has been erased by several ugly losses, although a recent scoreless draw against a nine-player D.C. United was better than no points at all. Manager Jaap Stam is in his second year, slowly making improvements with a host of highly-priced transfers. As Boston Brazzell recently wrote for Cincinnati Soccer Talk, there is a slight arrogance in the Queen City, as ownership continues attempting to “reinvent the wheel.”

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

1) DUTCH SOCCER

Like many fellow Eredivisie clubs, Cincinnati attempts to create meaningful possession. Those trademark passing triangles do not maintain control but push the pace and quickly advance. The formation will alternate between a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-3 depending on available personnel. The fullbacks remain important in both setups, and while Joe Gyau and Ronald Mararrita are involved during the build-up, neither is incisive in the final third. This team is a long-long-long-term project, but the ideals are often abandoned for little reward. When lacking the personal conviction to maintain identity, at least secure results.

The attack is starting to get… well, maybe not hot, but lukewarm. Luciano Acosta returned to MLS in March and has been quite productive over the past month. Expensive striker signing Brenner even found the back of the net twice against CF Montréal. The former thrives in open space; the latter prefers to hang around the bar and wait for service, despite often receiving the ball too early for his tastes. A team with a makeshift back line might struggle against this opponent.

2) BUILDING CONFIDENCE

The postponement of the Inter Miami fixture may have caused greater issues than previously imagined. The Red Bulls appear to have needed a chance to build some confidence and knock in some goals against a grossly inferior opponent. Summer months tend to drag, with downward spirals spinning in unpredictable directions. Currently careening out of control, another chance to change course and gain some confidence has presented itself.

“A porous sieve” would be one way to describe FC Cincinnati, surrendering the second-most goals in MLS and the most shots per 90 minutes, both coming from the third-closest distance. The third-year team would be last if not for Toronto FC’s seven-gun salute wishing farewell to Chris Armas. There is no need for great strategy or tactical chicanery, as the back line would probably let anyone through when asked nicely. The most common allowance of late is a simple from the wing, followed by a low, driven pass across the net, a quaint throwback to American soccer in the ‘90s. Due to these defensive third foibles and a lack of vampires, speculative crosses by the opponent are infrequent and unnecessary.

Productivity and chemistry questions follow the duo of Fábio and Patryk Klimala, despite the former breaking his scoreless streak in the Revolution fixture. Gerhard Struber experienced similar issues at Barnsley, as his strikers did not consistently find the back of the net. Perhaps the issue is that any productive player capable of meeting his physical and tactical demands has likely ascended to a higher plane than the English Championship or MLS.

3) SQUAD ROTATION

A midweek match is the chance for some lineup swapping, especially against a potentially inferior opponent. Of course, there may not be enough alternative players available with the injury crisis and the manager’s well-defined tastes. The Red Bulls are clearly getting tired in later stages, unable to maintain the high press and making silly mistakes. The lack of depth has caught up with the team, further manifesting with each passing fixture.

As a sharp person recently observed, this next match will be highly revealing for how the club thinks of certain players. Whoever did not start against New England should be in the team sheet against Cincinnati. If they are not, then their omission speaks to being outside of the primary rotation and being on the backburner for management, likely to be sent away as soon as possible.

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