The 2021 New York Red Bulls season has firmly hit the doldrums.
Despite outshooting the opposition 23 to 9, Gerhard Struber’s stalling team couldn’t find the back of the net against a largely impotent FC Cincinnati team, with Wednesday night ending with a 0-0 draw in Harrison.
Rolling out a flatter 4-4-2 than his traditional diamond midfield, Struber’s lineup was marked again by the absence of designated player Dru Yearwood and seven-digit transfer signing Frankie Amaya. Wiki Carmona was preferred again in attacking midfield instead, while Andrew Gutman made his return from a long injury layoff to give John Tolkin a rest.
The game started with New York on the front foot. Patryk Klimala had the best of the resulting chances when he fired a flicked-up volley into the crossbar. But immediately after the game turned into a familiar quagmire of whistles and injury breaks as neither team found much joy in the other’s box.
Though possessing a reputation for turning games around with halftime adjustments, Struber rolled out largely the same look in the second half with little payoff. Carmona most often found himself in dangerous positions but with little end product, while Klimala and Fabio failed to find much combination with the flatter midfield. The entry of Yearwood and Amaya did little to move the needle, and despite an almost entirely halfcourt second half where New York sieged the Cincinnati goal, the game rarely looked destined for anything but the scoreless draw it ended up being.
In his post-match press conference, Gerhard Struber repeated his common optimistic mantra about his young, undermanned team “learning” but struggled to put a positive spin on an underwhelming result against one of the conference’s weaker teams.
“We are very disappointed and frustrated. We create so many chances but we don’t have that missing link to score. We are maybe missing some of the hunger and desire to score.”
Struber stated that his decision to tweak his typical diamond formation was motivated by a wish to match Cincinnati’s flat defensive formation, giving him two attacking midfielders to press the backline.
“I think with two 10s, we have closer positions for pressing distances. In the second half, we change back to the diamond, which puts everything in our hands and gives us great moments for synchronized pressing, but in the end we don’t find the goal. But nevertheless, it is good to see the players going to their personal limit after taking a hit in the face against New England on the weekend.”
Fullback-turned-holding midfielder-turned-center back Tom Edwards was a huge part of the team’s clean sheet performance, but repeated his manager’s lamenting of the team’s lack of cohesion in the final third.
“I think it’s a hunger thing, a confidence thing really. We had them pinned back all game and should have created more. We worked in training on moving the ball around, but in the end when the ball comes into the box I think we need a bit of desire and hunger to get on the end of it.”
After the team appeared to be gradually gelling during the month of May, Struber and the Red Bulls now find themselves in a slump where complete performances seem out of reach. If New York is to turn their season around in the coming weeks, it will not be on easy turf. First is a quick turnaround to Chicago to face the resurgent Fire, followed by the always tricky away day in Montreal.
“We are very close to winning many games and picking up points. We know we have not had much luck away this season, but I have patience and a big trust in our group.”
While Struber’s patience with his players is commendable on a personal level, on a professional level his team desperately needs to change the mood of a season that appears on the brink of spiralling downward. It is unlikely that praise for intricate pressing will satisfy the notoriously demanding New York fans if points continue to be dropped and the slide down the conference table continues.