This week we may have caught Austin in an unhappy mood. Or at least I think he’s unhappy, he had to agree with my take yesterday about Benjamin Angoua’s one game DisCo suspension, because neither of us understood that decision. Or perhaps it’s the streaky form of RBNY that’s straight out of the New England playbook, it’s hard to say. Naturally I may have to rub in it a little bit before we figure out who’s playing on the Revs backline with Angoua and Andrew Farrell both serving suspensions and why RBNY has been copying the Revs streaky form. But Austin’s the best and so is the rest of the OaM crew for putting up with my nonsense.
You can find my answers to Austin’s questions over on their site. If you haven’t listened to the most recent episode of Six States, One Podcast, Austin was one of their guests this week to talk about the RBNY-NE matchup. Be sure to check out SB Nation’s Why We Are Fans posts and write a FanPost of your own to enter into SBN’s contest. If you’re traveling to RBA today, may the soccer gods bless you with safe travels, especially the Revs buses through Connecticut.
Today is a good day.
TBM: Dax McCarty isn't walking through that door, Tyler Adams isn't walking through that door...so who is in the RBNY midfield now and how well has the unit performed in 2017?
AF: I'll answer the second part of that question first: not great, as you might have guessed from a glance at our recent form. And even our wins this season have mostly been of the narrow variety. There are all sorts of reasons for that, but one of them is definitely the Dax-shaped hole in midfield. The team lost a few intangibles when he was shipped out - leadership, a bit of drive and fight - and a very tangible presence on the ball-winning/ball-keeping side of things. Sean Davis was supposed to be the Dax replacement alongside Felipe, but that didn't quite work out and Tyler Adams is the second answer the team has tried to the "if not Dax, who?" question.
Now he's gone too, Jesse Marsch's latest solution is basically to duck the question altogether: for the last game, he put Felipe in as a lone d-mid and asked Sacha to play as a sort of 8.5 - mostly pushing forward into space behind the front four. That's an approach we've seen when the team was chasing a goal and wanted an extra body up top, but it's a stretch to say it was a great success before Jesse gave it a go as a starting formation. Still, it worked well enough against Toronto, so it wouldn't be a great surprise to see it tried again.
I think ultimately we see Adams and Felipe settle in as the starting midfield pair. But until Tyler gets back from Korea [Tyler Adams is starring for the USYNT’s at the U20 World Cup] - and for other reasons I hope that's not until around the middle of June - we'll probably continue to see some shape-shifting from RBNY. Nothing has really clicked just yet. Felipe + Davis, Felipe + Sacha, Felipe alone, even Felipe + Adams: we've seen pros and cons to all those options, but nothing yet to suggest there's a set-it-and-forget-it midfield pairing to rely on, as was the case when Felipe and Dax were stalking the middle of the field. They'll figure something out, but they're not really settled at the moment.
TBM: RBNY has just 13 goals on the season, Bradley Wright-Phillips as five of them. Sacha Kljestan is still getting his assists, but just four players total have scored this year...something is up with the offense right?
AF: No question. The 4-2-2-2 took Sacha and BWP out of their stride and didn't really add up to the sum of its parts. And it's possible the old favorite 4-2-3-1 has become a little too predictable. RBNY's style of play is no secret, nor is the most effective way to neutralize it: sit back and wait for counters. But the biggest problem doesn't seem to be tactical but technical: the team's basic passing and movement has been off-kilter all season.
RalfBall isn't entirely about possession or passing, but the game is still soccer and if you can't connect a pass or keep the ball long enough to do what you want with it, you'll struggle to score. And the Red Bulls have been struggling to score.
TBM: The last four games have been rough for you guys, 0-3-1, just two goals scored, what else has been an issue for the Red Bulls recently?
AF: A little bit of everything: poor decisions in the final third, or the right decisions poorly executed; trying to force the tempo and coughing up turnovers in awkward positions, or trying to slow things down and getting caught out by quicker-moving, quicker-thinking opponents; too fragmented at the back, too narrow up front; spreading the field without a true target forward to tie things together in the middle; a lack of pace, a lack of ingenuity, a lack of keep-it-simple clear thinking in crucial moments.
Mostly, for me, we look too rehearsed at times. The team prides itself on being well prepared, but when things aren't going right it seems to double down on the game plan and ends up looking like it's surprised and frustrated that the tricks of the training field aren't working on match day.
Ultimately, tactics are a framework to guide the talent in the squad to its best self. And that hasn't been happening recently. The team looks like it's trying too hard to follow instructions sometimes.
At its best, the fact there is an overarching Red Bull Global Soccer system is a source of strength: it brings continuity and structure to everything RBNY does, and it means the club is part of a sort of global soccer laboratory for sharing and testing new ideas. At its worst, however, it can mean a sort of by-the-numbers approach to the game, with players appearing forced into roles that don't quite do justice to their talents. RBNY is closer to worst than best at the moment.
Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Damien Perrinelle, Aaron Long, Connor Lade; Felipe; Daniel Royer, Sacha Kljestan, Alex Muyl; Fredrik Gulbrandsen, Bradley Wright-Phillips
Injuries/Suspensions/Absences: Gideon Baah (season-ending injury list); Aurelien Collin (been close to coming back for weeks now); Michael Amir Murillo (supended); Tyler Adams (U-20 World Cup duty)
Prediction: I think the Revs match-up very well against RBNY - Nguyen and Fagundez could have a lot of fun in space opened up by the Red Bulls' efforts to contain Kamara. But, more in hope than expectation, I'll say things go more right than wrong for the home team and it pulls out a win. 2-1 to RBNY.