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A Couple Or Three Things: City result crashes confidence for Red Bulls

Set piece struggles continue while Luquinhas continues his disappearing act

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New York City FC
Luquinhas has found himself in awkward form both figuratively and literally this summer.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After a confident build-up to Saturday’s derby, the New York Red Bulls came up well short in a 2-0 loss to rivals New York City FC. OaM editor Ben Cork offers a couple or three things to think about as Gerhard Struber’s team enters the international break with many of the same question marks they’ve had throughout 2022...

Set piece second ball breakdowns continue to haunt Red Bulls

The derby disaster on Saturday was brought upon by breakdowns in set piece defending — first a flicked-on back post finish by Alexander Callens and a Nicolas Acevedo finish that came on a second ball after the initial corner kick had been stopped. Struber acknowledged the way set pieces unraveled the team’s performance at Yankee Stadium, but went on to state that set piece defending was an area he felt the team had been strong in all year. This is both true and not so depending on how one looks at it.

According to WhoScored, the Red Bulls have given up 9 of their 39 conceded goals this season on set pieces this year, putting them in the better-performing half of the league in the category. But when broadening the definition to goals conceded off the next moments of play after successfully defended set plays and the narrow results they’ve occurred in, it’s been a major drag on the team’s season. Matches against Minnesota, Montreal have turned against New York on such goals before César Araújo pounced on multiple such opportunities to send the Red Bulls crashing out of the Open Cup.

With the City result as the latest game changed by such an incident, what’s gone wrong?Some have pinpointed the zonal marking system installed by Struber, which can leave players ball-watching and unable to proactively deal with an unexpected bounce. It could just be one of the areas where a younger team is susceptible to a lack of organization in attempting to reconstruct the lines after a set play. Whatever the precise diagnosis, it’s one of the areas of play where conscious coaching makes a difference at professional level — it’s a situation that Struber is both responsible for but has time and room to fine-tune heading into the playoffs.

Mind games backfire

Even the hapless Nick Cushing was joining the revelry as City fans made hay of Struber’s comments last weekend that it was “crystal clear” that the Red Bulls would win this derby matchup. Struber can be forgiven for his confidence after a win over New England that had seen his team all but assure playoff qualification and turn the page of difficult summer form. But such a boast appeared to become bulletin board material for a City squad that brought a fire that tends to give teams the edge in situations like the set pieces that turned the game.

It was a particularly strange boast given how Struber has otherwise continued to reiterate his comments from the beginning of the season that he didn’t feel like his team was capable of trophies or big game performances. Struber has done a respectable job engineering a previously-stale New York team back to one that does the basics reasonably well. But with his entire managerial career to this point being short stints helping minnow clubs like Wolfsberger and Barnsley circle the wagons, it remains unclear whether Struber can make the eventual adjustment to maximal achievement that a job like New York’s requires.

Luquinhas on the milk carton?

After his bombastic introduction to the American scene during the spring and early summer, Luquinhas has become something of a non-entity for the Red Bulls as the season has gone on. An assist in the ignominious 5-4 loss to Colorado last month has been the Brazilian’s only appearance in a box score since scoring in the cup rout over City in June.

Gerhard Struber has spoken in recent weeks about trying to get Luquinhas to play more direct forward passes rather than playing square, and elements of such adjustment can be seen in his play in recent weeks as the team’s form has turned around. Since July, Luquinhas has had five games with over 100 yards in progressive passes after only two such performances in the season’s first four months. But the winter transfer splash from Legia Warsaw has seemingly lost his magic of impetuous dribbling and unconscious shot attempts that charged up New York’s form in the first half of the season.

As with many players in the New York squad, Luquinhas seems to be a victim of a lack of positional consistency. Differing formations used by Struber have seen him deployed on both wings as well as in central roles both underneath striker or playing as a line-leading forward himself. When a player is already dealing with adjustment to a new country and a language barrier, an overload of tactical instruction can’t possibly help.