Ahead of Saturday’s playoff game at Subaru Park against the New York Red Bulls, we caught up with Ben Cork at Once a Metro to get his thoughts on the visit to open the playoffs against the Philadelphia Union. You can see my answers to Ben’s questions at Once a Metro.
1. New York has looked pretty good going into the playoffs, what’s the energy around the team right now?
Well, this is the energy drink club after all, isn’t it? After a nightmare summer where injuries, international call-ups and plain bad luck nearly sunk the New York Red Bulls’ season, Gerhard Struber is once again toasting cans to the camera at press conferences.
The team has only lost once in the last two months, and though the team’s scoring output is still somewhat underwhelming, they’ve largely dominated their games and feel confident heading into playoffs that feel like playing with house money. Struber and captain Sean Davis have discussed how much this young team’s eagerness to learn and improve over the course of a difficult season has morale high now that results are falling into place. How far this confidence will carry the team over the next couple of weeks remains to be seen.
2. Who’s in form right now? Caden Clark has looked solid with the USYNT, but who else is making waves?
Though initially earning attention for his pressing and link-up play earlier in the season despite a lack of finishing, target man Fabio has found a way to get on the scoresheet in a dramatic way recently. His late header against Montreal brought New York closer to a playoff spot, before a classy decision day goal against Nashville where he flicked the ball over a defender’s head before finishing confirmed it.
But overall, the story of the team’s recent success has been the suffocating Red Bull-style full-field defensive system installed by Struber. After returning from summer injuries, center backs Sean Nealis and Andres Reyes have been monsters at the base of the team’s high press, with their mobility and confidence allowing the rest of the side to search and destroy. Fullbacks Kyle Duncan, John Tolkin, Andrew Gutman, and Tom Edwards have all rotated and provided crucial energy and width to the formation. Meanwhile, former Philadelphia goalkeeper Carlos Coronel has blossomed in New York, making constant emergency saves to preserve the team’s narrow leads.
3. Where are NY’s strengths and weaknesses? What tactics and formations do you expect them to use?
As mentioned above, Gerhard Struber has delivered on his promise to build the Red Bulls in the extreme pressing style team the company’s clubs are known for. While the team’s attack will likely require further personnel overhaul in the offseason to see success, defensively the Red Bulls allow opponents to do very little. After Struber pursued a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield upon arrival, a recent adjustment to a formation that shifts between a 3-5-2 and a 5-4-1 depending on personnel has effectively clogged the midfield. Struber appears to have found the right equilibrium with his frequently-mentioned emphasis on “pressing distances” and very little escapes the midfield against this team.
Meanwhile, once the team retrieves the ball, things are less straightforward. The team attacked more intuitively in the previous 4-diamond-2, and the current formation has often left forwards struggling to find chemistry. Caden Clark’s reintroduction to the team has sparked some creativity in the team’s approach, but otherwise, the team has struggled to produce opportunities for Fabio and talented designated player Patryk Klimala, who has lost some confidence in taking his rare chances. A key wild card in recent months has been homegrown talent Omir Fernandez, whose movement and ability to link the midfield and strikers has been inconsistent but often crucial.
4. Who will be out on Saturday for RBNY? Who should be in the lineup, and what’s your score prediction?
After a genuine injury crisis over the summer in which the team often had only one healthy center back, the team is close to full health. US international Aaron Long is still out with a season-long Achilles injury, but otherwise, the squad is fully intact for the first time since the spring.
Coronel; Tolkin, Gutman, Nealis, Reyes, Duncan; Davis, Yearwood, Clark; Fabio, Klimala
I’m gonna go ahead and make heads explode and say the Red Bulls are going to get into a scoring groove. They’ll finally have some bounces in the final third go their way and get a 3-1 win with Patryk Klimala getting at least one goal and maybe more.