Life is short. Make more bad decisions. But read this preview first. That would be a good decision, but life’s long enough for that.
The Red Bulls host Orlando City in a matchup that most seasons is just another day on the calendar, but this year has a unique psychological element to it after the last game the two sides played, a 5-1 Orlando win that sent New York tumbling out of the Open Cup. The result was shocking to say the least, although the signs could be seen prior little can claim to have expected such a disappointing performance from a Red Bulls that had been flying high for most of the season. Not only did it ruin the Red Bulls biggest chance at a trophy in years, but it took a tremendous toll on the team mentally, with awful performances against Colorado and DC United following the loss, and the fanbase has become restless as a result. Gerhard Struber has been increasingly called into question, with his often ineffective or detrimental substitution patterns, recent comments to media, and disappointing summer transfer window all being used against him. The third Orlando game of the campaign may be a chance to ease the worries of fans and reassure the team, essentially taking revenge on the team that humiliated them just weeks ago and getting the squad back on track for the final months of the season. Despite recent negativity, the team has done quite well in 2022 and still has a chance to make it a season to remember, which makes a home win against the Lions invaluable. Of course, there is the matter of actually winning.
Winning hasn’t been something Orlando fans have been seeing much of recently, one could have been deceived by the ruthless attacking displayed against the Red Bulls but the Floridians have not had a league win in more than a month, and have only been victorious three times since April. It’s been miserable viewing, and despite having great talent on paper it’s simply not come together for head coach Oscar Pareja. “Papi” Pareja has been in the hot seat for a while now, with his attacking identity being lost on a team with the 2nd worst goals per 90 in the league. Despite being a largely possession based team, averaging 50.6% possession, the ball fails to consistently reach attacking areas as split-second chances are often overplayed, with players unable to coordinate effectively enough for moves to come off.
Defensively the side has been more respectable, their 1.5 goals conceded per game placing them right around the league average. The notoriously solid 4-2-3-1 that Pareja utilizes makes use of the two defensive midfielders to provide cover throughout the pitch, sliding towards the wings to help fullbacks when the ball is in wide areas, and sitting in front of the center backs while opposing teams have it more centrally. Different combinations of Cesar Araujo, Junior Urso, and Mauricio Pereyra have been used to make up the double pivot, as Pareja has tried to experiment with the more offensively oriented Pereyra as a deep-lying playmaker.
The main weakness of the defense has been the press, while not a particularly pressure-oriented side, their successful pressure percentage of 26.2% is abysmal, tied for the lowest in the league. When opponents are in possession Orlando typically wait to press until the ball reaches the middle of the field, not particularly bothered with pressing in their attacking third. This isn’t particularly uncommon, but when the press breaks down so easily in the midfield it allows opponents to slice through them, with Orlando’s opponents having high completion rates in short (88.9%, 8th highest in MLS) and medium (88.3%, 6th highest in MLS) passes. While the Red Bulls have never been particularly good at breaking teams down, the lack of organization in defensive that has cost Orlando makes them an easier opponent to attack than most.
Orlando have a talented team of individuals that are still in the playoff picture despite their struggles, and while they won’t fall immediately to the Red Bulls press, their recent lack of attacking threat means that the Red Bulls should only really have to worry about one end of the field. However, both sides will be motivated for a win on Saturday, and it should be a well contested affair.
An in-depth and methodical look into the more abstract facets of the team’s identity
Most likely to dress up as Kingston for Halloween - Cesar Araujo
The tough Uruguayan central midfielder doesn’t look like he’d partake in the silliness of Halloween festivities, but he’d definitely enjoy scaring children as the Orlando City mascot.
Most likely to know how to moonwalk - Ruan
The man had a goal celebration prepared despite playing right-back, his on-pitch flair should translate into smooth moves on the dance floor.
Most likely to go on Jeopardy - Kyle Smith
The 30-year old defender actually worked full-time as an accountant in his USL days with Louisville City, and despite being a cryptocurrency enthusiast, he’s definitely smart enough to go on the show.
Most likely to steal your girl - Alexandre Pato
The Brazilian’s a player on and off the pitch, and is too gorgeous for your girl to care. Don’t think for a second you stand a chance.
New York Red Bulls (3-4-3): Coronel, Tolkin, Long, S. Nealis, Reyes, D. Nealis, Casseres, Amaya, Luquinhas, Klimala, Harper
Orlando City SC (4-2-3-1): Gallese, J. Moutinho, Jansson, A. Carlos, Ruan, C. Araujo, Pereyra, B. Michel, Pato, F. Torres, Gioacchini
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Brooklyn native is back in New York after a disappointing stint in Europe for the second time in his career, as he arrived on Deadline Day on a loan from Belgian side Oostende. The right-back chose to pursue his European dream after the end of the 2021 season, and despite making 7 starts in his half-season with Oostende, he failed to make a more tangible impact on the club and was allowed to return to New York for the last few months of the year. His short comeback comes at a good time for the club, as starting right-back Tom Edwards remains out of action while parent club Stoke City negotiate his early return. Dylan Nealis has performed admirably in Edward’s absence, but Duncan provides much-needed cover and an arguable upgrade over the Georgetown graduate. Duncan is a fan favorite at the club for good reason, his winger-level dribbling skill gives him an attacking element that made him a terror to defenses in his time in MLS, and while his defensive capabilities have been called into question there’s no doubting the talent of the 25-year-old.
It seems everything these days can be linked to the World Cup, with the 2022 transfer window being an unusual one thanks to the mid-season affair in Qatar, and Duncan’s return may be linked to it as well. Sitting on one cap for the USMNT, his sometimes one-dimensional play has largely kept him on the outside looking in for the program, but with the wide-open nature of the position in the national team roster, a spectacular few months with the Red Bulls could push him into the conversation. It probably won’t, but you can bet Duncan will be motivated to make as strong of a case as he can for what will likely be the only real World Cup chance of his career, and the journey would likely start on Saturday against Orlando.
Another player on the fringes of the national team program, Gioacchini has had quite the ride in the public eye. He came into the limelight as a prospect in French yo-yo club Caen, getting called up for some friendlies and the 2021 Gold Cup. Unfortunately he hasn’t appeared for the national team since that Gold Cup, seemingly having fallen off Berhalter’s radar after not appearing during World Cup Qualifying. His recent move to Orlando City seems to be move designed to get him consistent playing time ahead of Qatar, like Duncan and many fringe USMNT players he’s seeking a final push to get him into the squad. Able to play as a striker and a winger, Orlando is a good landing spot for the 22 year old, with plenty of creative players available to feed him he’ll have plenty of opportunities despite the struggling offense. He’ll have ample opportunity to enter the starting 11, and will have to take advantage of the few months he has left. Having come off the bench and looked good in the two games since his arrival, he’ll be looking for a start on the pitch against the Red Bulls, and a quick start for his MLS career
The week-long break since the demoralizing Colorado loss should be enough of a reset to get the Red Bulls going against Orlando, and with their better form throughout the year as well as added motivation, a 3-2 win will quell some of the nerves surrounding the club.