After a spectacular 4-1 win over rivals DC United last night, the New York Red Bulls head into the international break with a little swagger in their step. After a night of reflection, OaM tells ya a couple or three things we learned from the first win of 2022 in Harrison…
Flood the midfield
At the start of the season, the Red Bulls looked destined to play with the multiple striker formation Gerhard Struber largely stuck with through the initial parts of 2021. Designated player Patryk Klimala was joined by Premier League loan signing Ashley Fletcher as Struber appeared set to have depth and tactical flexibility at center forward.
But a covid diagnosis for Klimala, a lingering thigh injury for Fletcher, and a tactical shift over recent weeks has seen Struber adjust to building out his midfield instead. At one point in the second half of Saturday night’s win over DC, there was no natural striker on the pitch, with Caden Clark taking up a false 9 role between wingers Luquinhas and Omir Fernandez. Struber’s shift towards flooding the final third with attacking midfielders worked in a particularly on the nose way on Saturday, with the team’s spectacular first three goals coming from attacking midfielders pouncing on rebounds DC wasn’t able to clear.
After one of the team’s several disappointing recent home results, Struber said he wished to see more players entering the box on attacks, and that playing with a single striker encourages this. As Struber noted last night, Klimala’s clever and persistent running stretched and unsettled DC’s defense. But this inside-out play that his system encourages from the forwards requires a midfield willing to take advantage of the space left in their wake — and it appears Struber is finally getting that.
Lewis Morgan is good enough to be an international
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the Scottish national team pool. I randomly watched a lot of Neil Lennon’s Celtic in college and enjoy the commentary-free ambience of SPFL YouTube highlight videos from time to time. But unlike most American soccer fans, I don’t maintain a spreadsheet of potential call-ups, and Steve Clarke is a good coach who I assume knows what he needs.
But look at this fucking goal:
Despite his two-footedness and versatility leading him to be saddled with a fullback role over much of the season, Morgan has been a steady source of highlight reel goals in 2022, with Saturday night’s screamer the best yet. The Paisley native’s clean striking technique makes him dangerous from a variety of positions and situations, and he might just be the fastest player in a young, athletic Red Bulls team.
If there’s one thing the Red Bulls and this Scotland team have in common, it’s that they aren’t getting enough scoring from strikers. If you’re naturalizing a philandering Australian with Dennis Rodman hair to play up top, you could probably use a wide player who will dig you out a goal from nothing once in a while.
Good vibes for the break
Another night of dropped points at home would have left the next two weeks as a real purgatory for the Red Bulls. An entire international break spent ruminating on how a team so clearly capable of imposing its will on teams away from home could be slipping down the table based on paradoxical home impotency. It also would be been a potential morale-killer for Struber and his squad after an exhausting month of May in which the team played three different midweek matches on top of the weekend schedule.
But instead, the Red Bulls will enjoy the rest from physical action and “distance” from the stresses of the game that Struber said this week will keep players’ minds healthy. While Aaron Long and Cristian Cásseres will hope to impress their national programs while avoiding injury, the rest of Struber’s team will hope to rejuvenate and reintegrate figures like Andres Reyes and Wiki Carmona from injury returns. As Struber remarked last night, his team is “close to the peak,” which couldn’t have come at a better time.