Do you ever feel like life is moving too quickly?
It’s not, the Red Bulls just had a midweek fixture and threw off your schedule. Get over yourself. But read this preview first.
The work doesn’t stop after New York’s midweek win against Atlanta United, with 2022 surprise package FC Cincinnati set to be the next visitors to Red Bull Arena. Many league analysts had predicted an improvement from the three straight Wooden Spoons the Ohio club had opened its MLS history with, but no one saw them doing as well as they have. They’ve consistently hung around the playoff spots, currently 9th in the East (but tied on points with 7th place Orlando City), and have played attractive soccer throughout the year. It’s been a massive improvement from a side that’s been atrocious their entire MLS existence, as they’ve rose to a solid mid-table side under new head coach Pat Noonan.
Hired at the end of the 2021 season, the former Philadelphia assistant has brought some of the Union’s style over to Ohio, implementing a high pressing style that has vastly improved the team’s offensive prospects. Their successful pressures per game is second only to the Red Bulls leaguewide, although they do most of their work in the middle and defensive third to conserve energy and shape. Like most pressing sides they operate best without the ball, averaging 46.2% possession on the year and being very direct when they have it. It’s translated into a side recording the 8th highest goals per 90 in the league, and the 5th highest xG per 90, both respectable places for a mid-table team.
An interesting statistical wrinkle is the fact that Cincinnati’s shot attempts are rather low, pointing to a more efficient approach to attacking. The average shot distance is among the lowest in the league, as the team prefers quality over quantity when attacking. Crossing is and hopeful long balls are thrown aside, despite their affinity for direct play they will show restraint and slow things down if the opportunity isn’t clear. Finding this balance between directness and patience can prove difficult sometimes, such as in plays like these where players can get overeager, but for the most part they’ve stayed disciplined.
Despite vast improvement on the horrific defending that cost them in their first three MLS seasons, the team has still struggled to keep the ball out of the net, and it has neutralized the good work they’ve done on the attacking front. Taking a look at their recent 4-4 draw with Inter Miami, despite the pretty attacking plays they stringed together, consistently leaving space for opposing attackers cost them many valuable chances, and could have easily made the result much worse. Part of the problem is the aforementioned pressure, despite the attempts the successful pressure percentage is an admittedly average 28.6%. Goals like this happen because of a failed press, the central midfielder is far too late closing down and the passer is free to hit a perfect long ball, exposing the defense and forcing them to chase shadows, leaving spaces that resulted in a disallowed Alejandro Pozuelo goal. The recent signing of former Red Bull Matt Miazga will certainly help organize the defense, but it’s still a weakness that New York will look to exploit.
Despite the fine form of individual players such as Brandon Vasquez, Brenner, and Luciano Acosta, Cincinnati have failed to maintain the hot streak that they started the season with, 2-7-1 in their last 10. Their poor defense has almost perfectly balanced their good attack, with multiple high scoring draws showing an inability to hang onto leads. Their porous defense will be a relief for a Red Bulls that have had great attacking displays when playing well, so it’ll be a matter of who can impose themself on the game. Cincinnati have the firepower and the form to put away any chance they’re given, so limiting the opportunities given away and taking advantage of every chance given will, shockingly, lead to a win. A revolutionary idea, to outscore one’s opponent; but Cincinnati’s matches are typically very open and a battle of who can outscore the other, with half of Cincinnati’s losses involving 5 or more goals. It promises to be a wild game, but if the Red Bulls can take the initiative like they did against Austin, they they should come out on top.
After (two) weeks of fear and uncertainty due to the lack of a kit matchup release, the good folk at MLS have listened to the public outcry and let everyone know what uniforms teams will be wearing. This is a victory for the common man.
With the long awaited release comes the news that FC Cincinnati have opted for their home “Dynamic Kit” against the Red Bulls, a jersey that was launched with great extravaganza through a 2-minute-long video that I’m sure many people watched. The kit itself is rather extravagant by league standards, a navy blue shirt with orange and regular blue pinstripes. Pinstripes are an underused tool in soccer jersey design, being a good way to add a subtle pop to shirts with more limited color schemes. Unfortunately, Cincinnati forgot to continue the stripes to the back of the shirt, making them relatively invisible for TV viewers and making the entire kit look like it’s just navy blue. Points for effort and originality, but if no one sees the design, then is it really there?
7/10 for Schrödinger’s stripes.
Best to have at a children’s birthday party - Kenneth Vermeer
The Dutch goalkeeper is an intimidating figure on the pitch, but he seems like a fun enough individual to have by your side as you sit through an unsettling clown performance for half an hour.
Most poetic - Yuya Kubo
The former Japanese international consistently looks ready to quote some Homer.
Most likely to steal your girl - Matt Miazga
Lots of handsome faces on the Cincinnati roster, but standing at 6’4 and vaguely resembling some actor that I can’t quite place (James Franco? Zayn?), the former Red Bull takes the cake in this week’s beauty contest.
Honorable mention: Ronald Matarrita
Most likely to get his girl stolen - Brandon Vasquez
Life comes at you fast.
New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1): Coronel, Tolkin, Long, S. Nealis, Duncan, Casseres, Yearwood, Luquinhas, Fernandez, Morgan, Klimala
FC Cincinnati (3-4-1-2): Celentano, Miazga, Hagglund, Murphy, Barreal, Nwobodo, J. Moreno, Powell, Acosta, Vasquez, Brenner
PLAYERS TO WATCH
A SuperDraft pick? Becoming a regular starter in MLS? And performing well? The stuff of dreams.
After being selected second in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, the Indiana University alum replaced Alec Kann as Cincinnati’s starter just 7 games into the season. Since then he’s established himself as one of the league’s better goalkeepers, being a large part of Cincinnati’s resurgence this campaign. Only 21 years old, he’s already being tipped by some as a future USMNT player, but for now he’s growing by leaps and bounds every week. His on the ball skills can certainly improve, although the current system doesn’t demand much from him, but his raw shot-stopping ability is some of the best in the league. Possessing great reflexes, he can come up clutch when Cincinnati need him. Hopefully he doesn’t come up too clutch when John Tolkin takes his mandatory long shots, but he’ll be fun to watch and one to keep an eye on in the future.
Another SuperDraft pick? Becoming a regular starter in MLS? And performing well? Be still, my heart.
Cincinnati didn’t play around in the 2022 draft, trading up to select Ian Murphy with the 14th pick. A towering, honor-roll center-back who was named Duke University’s 2021 Defender of the Year, he’s slotted into the starting lineup and been a solid contributor in Noonan’s Cincinnati. At 22 years of age, he’s got solid skill on the ball and has adapted to the professional level quickly at a position notorious for being tough on young players. The Red Bulls press is a trial by fire for center backs, who have to be on their toes in possession and keep a cool head to stay precise. Being the least experienced of his usual defensive partners, the rookie professional might be a weak link for the Red Bulls to target, and he’ll have to be on top of his game to exit the game unscathed.
Cincinnati’s third pick in 2022 was Nick Markanvich, who’s amassed 110 minutes with the first team and assumedly been mediocre. Can’t win them all.
A third SuperDraft pick? Becoming a regular starter but falling out of favor with management, leading to a big-money trade and a delayed rejuvenation at his new club? The theme’s a little stretched.
A 2019 Cincinnati draft pick, the Californian was a key part of Gerhard Struber’s midfield and arguably the best player in the early days of the 2022 season, but has mysteriously fallen out of favor and now starves for minutes off the bench. His reasoning is unclear to many, with the US youth international being a stellar two-way threat in the minutes he’s played, able to recover the ball and quickly transition into attack in true Red Bulls fashion. Nonetheless, a return to his former club may be an opportunity for Struber to give Amaya a chance to prove himself. Battling against one of the league’s best in recent All-Star Luciano Acosta, Amaya will have his work cut out for him if he gets the start, making sure the Argentine isn’t free to create too much, and snuffing out any chances that do arise. With Amaya’s most direct rival, Dru Yearwood, main weakness being defensive, a shutout display will put a lot on Struber’s mind as he debates who should partner Cristian Casseres Jr. in the heart of the Red Bulls lineup.
I don’t see the New York defense completely shutting out a red-hot Vasquez and Brenner, but open space is something the Red Bulls thrive on and should win them the game. 4-2 Red Bulls.