If you watched the New York Red Bulls take on Atlanta United FC last weekend, you know they came back from 0-1 to win 2-1 with two goals in the last 20 minutes. Whether you think it was an impressive effort from NY or a breakdown by ATL, NY walked away with three points after losing to Vancouver FC in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match just three days before. Saturday’s matchup with the Colorado Rapids will be New York’s 4th game in two weeks. We caught up with Once a Metro to find out more about what we can expect.
Burgundy Wave: Saturday will be the Red Bulls' 4th game in two weeks. How (if at all) will this affect their play?
Once a Metro: I believe the Red Bulls having two meaningful games before the start of the MLS season was very helpful for the team. People could argue that CCL isn't taken very seriously in MLS, but it beats two preseason games. The team has switched their formation from a 4-2-3-1 last season to a 4-2-2-2 (at the moment). The additional meaningful games gave the team more time to work on their tactics in a battle-tested environment. Not going to argue... they didn't play very well in the two games against Vancouver, but things are starting to click, and that began with the match against Atlanta. Hopefully that carries over to Colorado on Saturday.
The team still has some issues on the back line, which is surprising since the four main starters all returned from last year. The newcomer who is pushing for starting time is USL Defender of the Year, Aaron Long. He's looked better on the whole than Aurelien Collin or Damien Perrinelle in the past three games.
BW: What can we expect to see in the midfield, considering the huge loss of Dax McCarty in the offseason?
OM: Yes, Dax's sudden departure was very surprising. Luckily for the team, Dax was hurt for about eight weeks last season, so his now-successor, Sean Davis, showed the front office what he is capable of. A lot of times when a good player gets injured, their replacements are there just to stop the bleeding. But Davis' performances were fantastic during his 21 appearances with RBNY in 2016. He showed he is someone that is deserving of a starting MLS spot and RBNY wasn't willing to let a young up-and-coming player leave the team. So the decision was made to trade the older and more expensive McCarty. So far this season, he's been a bit of a role player, but give him some time to get comfortable and come to terms he's the main starter and I believe he will get better at his distribution from the CDM spot. His playing style is a little less smashmouth than McCarty, but he has better closing speed.
The other midfielders are also team veterans, but they'll have to adjust to the new formation a bit. Daniel Royer showed he is a beast in the high-press and has the fitness to get up and down the field, transitioning nicely from offense to defense and back. The Red Bull organization has done a good job at gaining depth on at the outside midfield position over the past three years. Since they always run hard, they are the positions that demand the first subs.
BW: What's the key to shutting down (or containing) Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips?
OM: Kljestan & BWP are the main players on offense, but they aren't the only ones who can get forward. Royer, Mike Grella and Alex Muyl all have good heads on their shoulders and play very well with the overlapping outside backs.
The key to stopping BWP is to always have one of the central defenders in his hip pocket, while the other is always ready to react to his off-ball runs. BWP has been a bit shaky staying onside this season, but he is tough to stop if his timing with his teammates zeroes in.
So far, Kljestan hasn't been super sharp. Pulling him from a CAM position to more of a combo 10/8 will take some learning. If Colorado can stay in his feet when he receives the ball and play physical, they can make Sacha's life miserable. Which will in-turn will make BWP frustrated. If Colorado wants to win, they'll need to dispossess the offense then get on their horse to create run-of-play chances. More than likely, the midfield will be out of position due to the high press and could leave the defense out to dry.
Expected injuries/omissions: Gideon Baah (we learned Tuesday he is on a "Season Ending Injury List" due to a broken leg suffered last July), Gonzalo Veron (hamstring), Tyler Adams (returning from U-20's tournament)
Starting XI: 4-2-2-2: Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, Aurelien Collin, Sal Zizzo; Felipe, Sean Davis; Sacha Kljestan, Daniel Royer; Bradley Wright-Phillips, Mike Grella
Score: 1-1 draw. Red Bulls still not 100%. Colorado doesn't give up many goals (or score that many, for that matter).
You can see our responses to their questions over on Once a Metro.