I guess you could say that the New York Red Bulls game this week should be… Inter-esting. Yeah, I know. The creative juices aren’t exactly at my Beckham call right now. Here are some tactics.
The Red Bulls arrive in Florida a little early for Rolling Loud, but right on time to see other showings of debauchery and weirdly placed celebrity endorsements. For the fourth week in a row, New York has a short turnaround after a midweek fixture, this time facing off against David Beckham’s side hobby Inter Miami. The club has been underwhelming after its long-hyped founding, finishing 10th and 11th in its first two seasons despite large financial backing and the arrival of decorated European stars like Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi. The organization has been criticized for its lackadaisical approach, entering the league with no stadium and a seemingly half-built roster more focused on glitz and glamour than actual ability. The team was extremely top-heavy, flashy, mostly foreign attacking names like Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro, and Robbie Robinson were contrasted by castaway in-league defenders. The results were not pretty, Miami conceded a shocking 1.52 and 1.56 goals per game in 2020 and 2021 respectively, among the highest in the entire league in both seasons. Often times the team looked lost defensively, getting torn apart in transition and leaving far too much space for opposing attackers to feast on.
In 2022 the organization decided to reset, backing away from the flashy beginnings and adopting a more long-term, sensible approach. Designated Player Rodolfo Pizarro and longtime captain Leonardo Gonzalo-Pirez left on loan to Mexico and Argentina respectively, Federico Higuain was traded to Columbus, his brother Gonzalo was essentially stripped of his undroppable status, and Lewis Morgan was traded to a small team of New Jerseyans. Head coach Phil Nevile transitioned from an attempted free-flowing 3-5-2 to a more practical 4-2-3-1, trying to stabilize a defense that conceded 3 or more goals a whopping 7 times in 2021. The failures of the opening two years were fully recognized and credit must be given to the organization for forging ahead with the bold reboot, however the club is certainly not the finished product in 2022.
Inter Miami have been operating on a streak-based performance plan, going 0-1-4 in their first five MLS games, 3-0-0 in their next three, and 0-2-2 in their four following. Streaks like these often point to psychological issues within the squad, with results extremely affecting the team’s mentality so that the same results keep compounding, which can be expected after years of disappointment and organizational uncertainty. Defensively issues have remained, as 21 goals conceded in 11 games is the joint second-worst defensive record in the Eastern Conference. However this may just be a surface issue, their Expected Goals Allowed total is a much more respectable at 16.7. Their transition defense can still cost them at times, but slow improvement can be seen, at least on data tables.
Former England women’s coach Phil Neville has preferred a 4-2-3-1 in 2022, attempting to absorb pressure and play directly with the ball. It’s essentially a neutered version of the Red Bulls, very low possession is the norm with an average possession of 44.1% (RBNY average 43.5%), and their attempted pressure statistics are at average levels. However much of their struggle has come precisely from the pressure, their successful pressing percentage in 2022 is a shocking 26.5%, the second-worst percentage in the entire league. Poor organization leads to teams being able to easily play out of Miami’s press, and as Miami are caught forward the aforementioned transition defense is easily exposed. Players are often spaced incorrectly, leading to difficulties while counterpressing and an abundance of available space for the opposing attack.
Offensively Inter Miami have been blessed with forward Eduardo Campana, on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers in England. The young Ecuadorian striker has scored 6 times in the season so far, by far the top goalscorer on the squad (Gonzalo Higuain is a distant second with 2 goals) and well in the Golden Boot race. He’s vastly outperformed his Expected Goals metric, exceptional finishing has kept Miami in games that they arguably shouldn’t have been in. The team has been mediocre at creating chances, but Campana’s superb form has made them a constant threat. While the Red Bulls shouldn’t have to worry too much defensively, an effort has to be made to starve Campana of any opportunity, as the red-hot striker can cause problems in an instant.
Inter Miami have blown hot and cold in 2022, but their weaknesses largely align with the Red Bulls strengths, making the game a winnable one for Struber’s men. As they face yet another quick turnaround after the midweek draw against the Chicago Fire, the Red Bulls will still not have it easy as they attempt to keep the road streak going. Nonetheless, expect a fun and open game in Fort Lauderdale, both sides willing to go all out attacking the other.
The Adidas design intern that makes every MLS kit was likely jumping for joy when Inter Miami fell on their desk, as Beckham had given a blessing in the form of the club colors. Floridian fans must have been salivating when the logo and colors were announced in 2018 prior to the club’s founding. Beckham, whose forays into fashion have been well documented, brought his very best to the table with the black and pink combo. Pink is radical, almost never used in historically hyper-masculine sports, it’s fresh and bold, stands out on the pitch and with the right shading can look as clean and aesthetically pleasing as your average reds and blues. Black is classy, imposing, sleek and modern. Think Ajax in 2019. Think Real Madrid in 2019. You cannot go wrong with a black kit. The home kit was handled, a classy pink offering is a good statement to design majors everywhere. The Red Bulls will likely face off against the away kit, given that the light shade of pink used on the home kit may clash with both Red Bulls uniforms. An away kit gives designers even more room to play around, to experiment and try new things. The intern had the creative liberty to do something spectacular with the away kit, play around with the beautiful black and pink combination.
And… it’s a black shirt. Some pink highlights. Life is disappointing. 5/10.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gregore de Magalhães da Silva, or Gregore for those with time constraints, has been a mainstay for Inter Miami since his arrival in 2021. The 28-year-old had spent most of his career bouncing around his native Brazil, and despite a lack of real expectations he stood out enough to be named the club’s MVP in his debut year. The defensive midfielder is a warrior in the heart of the pitch, an expert tackler who can snuff out fires at levels comparable to some of the best in the league. Tireless without the ball, Gregore is in the top 5 percent of most per 90 defensive statistics compared to fellow midfielders, including pressures, successful pressures, tackles, tackles won, dribblers tackled, and percentage of aerial duels won. Massively underrated in the league, the highly physical player played a large part in helping Miami not concede as many goals as they could have, as many lapses in transition were snuffed out by the former Bahia man. Inter Miami will need him at his very best, with much of the Red Bulls strength lying in exploiting transition moments Gregore will need to be everywhere to make sure that his team stays in the game.
The prodigal son is home! Except he’s not exactly home, he’s about 3,300 miles and exactly one Conference from home. Yedlin’s adventures, spanning from England to Turkey, have finally returned stateside as the Seattle academy alum finds himself in Miami.
The veteran has come back to MLS at a crossroads in his career, after a difficult spell of years abroad and a gradual loss of his national team starting role, he’s come home for solace and familiarity. His strengths have long been physical, a deceivingly strong player despite standing only 5’8, his devastating speed has been a weapon for many years. Able to beat defenders off the dribble and place pinpoint crosses into the box, he can singlhandedly unlock teams on his day.
The Bronx native has enjoyed a fine start to 2022, finally claiming a spot in the starting XI after fans had clamored for his inclusion for years. Currently sitting on 2 goals and an assist in 10 starts, the Homegrown has settled comfortably into the attacking triumvirate of himself, Luquinhas, and Lewis Morgan. The trio has all been in good form, however part of the reason that they were as solid as they were was due to the lack of real options behind them. Besides strikers Tom Barlow, Ashley Fletcher, and most recently Zach Ryan, the only depth the club has had at winger has been Cristian Casseres Jr. who… is not a winger. Injuries and a generally thin roster have prevented any real competition from bothering the trio, but the slow decline of the former might spell trouble for the star three. Cameron Harper in particular has come into the limelight, consecutive assists against DC United in the Open Cup and Philadelphia in MLS mere days later have placed him into the conversation as one to watch. Wilkeman Carmona, the promising teenager who played a bit-part role in 2021, should make his return soon after brief appearances with RBII before sustaining a not-too-serious-but-serious-enough-to-mention foot injury. Luquinhas has been sensational after fully acclimating into the squad, dishing out assists or goals wherever he goes. Morgan has been electric down the wings, not as prolific following a hat-trick early in the year against Toronto FC, but still good enough to be considered a starter.
It’s arguably Fernandez who should be most worried about his starting role, taken off at halftime in the game against the Chicago Fire and not starting in the following MLS game against the Portland Timbers, poor Omir may once again find himself chained to the bench. His seat certainly isn’t hot, but it’s warming up and he’ll want to find an extra gear and put something tangible on the field against a relatively weak opponent.
Inter Miami are not that great, but a congested schedule may see the Red Bulls make things more difficult than they have to be. Give me a 2-1 victory to take back to Harrison anyways.