Eugene Rupinski, Brotherly Game) For a long time, Dax McCarty was the beating heart of the New York Red Bulls. Why was he let go, and how has RBNY coped without him?
Austin Fido, Once A Metro) The official line is that RBNY simply felt it had adequate younger players in the same position. Dax has a big contract and is pretty much at his peak as a player, but those factors made him trade-able once the team decided it had guys on the roster who were ready to step up. So Dax was flipped for what the club considered a good deal ($200k in GAM per season for this year and next), and younger players were promoted to his position in the lineup.
The circumstances of the trade were, of course, about as shabby as possible: it's hard to conceive of a worse way to go about dropping the club captain than when he's just landed back at USMNT training for the first time in two years, two days after his wedding. But he is, sadly, merely the latest loyal servant of the club to be hastily cast out without warning or consultation. It is the Red Bull way as much as gegenpressing and high-performance youth teams.
As to how RBNY has coped, the first man to be asked to fill Dax's shoes in midfield was Sean Davis. RBNY was also struggling to adapt to a new (ish) formation at the time, and somewhere along the way Jesse Marsch decided to give Tyler Adams a try. There are several Red Bulls fans who will suggest Davis is a better replacement for Sacha Kljestan than Dax, and maybe Marsch agrees with them: Adams has held down the Dax-spot since he was given his first start of the season at the end of March.
But Adams will be off to the U-20 World Cup shortly - indeed, it seems probable that this game might be his last for RBNY for a while, so Davis should get another shot at demonstrating how his skills can contribute to the team's success. (He got a shot against Sporting KC in midweek, but that game is perhaps regarded as an aberration: Jesse threw 11 guys on to the field and asked them to hold on for as long as possible. They lasted 45 minutes before the task became impossible.)
There's no direct replacement in the squad for Dax's experience, particular skill-set, or personality. Instead, his absence accelerates the opportunity for Davis and Adams to become their own men. As we already saw with Davis, who suffered a little more comparison to Dax than Adams because he filled the gap first: it's not really fair to ask a player to replace McCarty, and if that remains the expectation, they'll most likely always come up short. The best player at being Dax McCarty is Dax McCarty. But it takes time for fans to stop imagining how Dax would have handled a particular situation and start appreciating what Davis or Adams can do (that process is well advanced with Adams; Davis needs another run).
Other senior players - Kljestan, Felipe, BWP, Robles - have taken more prominent leadership roles since McCarty left, but they were already leaders on the team when Dax was in the squad. Kljestan's brand of captaincy seems a little less aggressive or passionate, but it's impossible to measure whether that has any great impact on the team. Only the players can say whether they fight a little harder or less hard under one captain or the other, and they'd sensibly sidestep the question if asked.
How well the team is coping in Dax's absence is a matter of perspective. RBNY has frailties, and one can argue that Dax helped address some or all. But he didn't cure them entirely, either. RBNY also has a top-tier prospect in Adams and an under-rated one in Davis, and neither would have seen a lot of time on the field this year if McCarty was still around. Of course, Dax was a fan-favorite: for some, understandably, it doesn't matter who replaced him or how good the team is - being good without Dax will always be a net loss for them.
On the field, the team is settling down and finding its rhythm. Far from perfect, but in a better place than it was this time last season. So RBNY is coping, perhaps it will even flourish, but I don't think there's any question that a team loses a little something it can't get back when it trades a player like McCarty. That loss doesn't have to hinder RBNY in any significant way on the field: Red Bulls fans are well aware it's possible to win trophies without Dax, because we've watched other teams do it since 2011. But it's a loss all the same. Like any legendary and popular player, he is missed - as he should be.
tBG) The Red Bulls had a midweek fixture out west against Sporting Kansas City. What adaptations should we expect from Jesse Marsch?
OAM) And what a fixture it was: Jesse promised rotation and he put the squad in a centrifuge. Six presumptive starters - including Kljestan and BWP - were swapped out of the lineup for guys more or less considered back-ups. And Sal Zizzo played as a center-back. Assume the six who didn't start in KC will be starting against the Union: Kljestan, BWP, Royer, Adams, Damien Perrinelle, Kemar Lawrence.
Indeed, assume what we've started to think of as this season's conventional starting XI will line up against the Union, since surely the only reason to torture Zizzo by playing him out of position for 90 minutes on the road was to keep the first-choice starters fresh. We might see a couple of players take a rest, but I don't think this game will feature anything like the radical rotation we saw for the last. It seems clear RBNY wanted to come into this match as fresh and strong as possible, and so it sacrificed three points and Sal Zizzo's dignity in KC to achieve that goal.
tBG) What's it like rooting for a team that's won since last August?
OAM) When you put it like that: not so bad. We win, we lose, we draw; we laugh, we cry, we shout. We hope Philly stays bad long enough to not knock RBNY out of US Open Cup this year, or to at least let us have three points on this occasion.
Injuries, suspensions, etc.
Aurelien Collin is thought to be out for about a month. Mike Grella is easing back from a chronic knee problem, but the team is hoping he might be ready to make the bench for this game.
Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, Damien Perrinelle, Connor Lade; Felipe, Tyler Adams; Daniel Royer, Sacha Kljestan, Alex Muyl; Bradley Wright-Phillips