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RSL at New York Red Bulls tactical preview: Squad depth and a new (interim) Head Coach to be tested

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Injuries, suspensions and call-ups have RSL reaching deep into their roster against a tough Red Bulls side.

MLS: Toronto FC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Mere days after Jeff Cassar was sacked, RSL are in New York under new management to face one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls. After opening their account last week against the LA Galaxy, RSL will be looking to get a few more goals on the road in hopes of overcoming their rough start, however, they will not shirk on the defensive end either. A new early glimpse, of sorts, has dawned for the Claret-and-Cobalt, but can they defeat their hosts who are sporting a new look?

Tactical versatility

It is harped on time and time again, but squads need to be versatile in their tactical approach to the game.

In Major League Soccer, no one does this better than the New York Red Bulls.

Head Coach Jesse Marsch spent time with his organization’s sister club, FC Red Bull Salzburg, during the off-season. While this lead to speculation that he might be moving to Europe, he instead returned to the league with new tactical insight.

It is not uncommon to see Salzburg line-up in a 4-2-2-2 on occasion, but it has been strange to see New York do it in all three matches this season. It is a particularly interesting formation that concentrates players down the center of the pitch. In doing so, the Red Bulls can play some good old fashion Route One soccer through quick counter-attacks.

While the Red Bulls might not be the speediest club in the league, their short, precise passes through the center of the pitch can punish the opposition.

It is true that the New York Red Bulls start in a 4-2-2-2 formation, but they have also switched to a 4-2-3-1 in the second half of every match this season.

Able to rotate between formation, the Red Bulls can make a tactical adjustment in hopes of getting a leg-up on their opposition.

What to watch

When the Red Bulls line-up in the 4-2-2-2, they are strong down the center of the spine but weak near the touchlines.

With most their players in the center of the pitch, Real could look to exploit their weakness of defending down the wings.

This being Daryl Shore’s first match as interim head coach, nothing is really known about how he will approach this match. However the club walks out on the pitch, expect the players to know that Shore wants them to attack down the touchline. Whether this is through pacey wingers or technically savvy shuttlers, RSL will spend the majority of the first half attacking down the wings.

Not shy to let fly

Favoring the quick counter-attack, New York’s attackers are no strangers to having the opposition defense set-up and close down space. In addition, the condensed style of soccer that the Red Bulls have utilized in 2017 does not leave much space for their attackers to operate either, so the Red Bulls must take their chances when they get them. Thus, it can feel as if New York conjures an opportunity out of nothing.

The Red Bulls players do not need a lot of space to get off a shot – unluckily for RSL. Even yards outside the box, New York has been known to let off a howler to two. While these chances might not always find the back of the net, they do challenge the goalkeeper more often than not.

The Red Bulls are among the league’s elite, in fact, boasting a shot accuracy of 50 percent when their shot is not blocked.

With so much fire power on the pitch, expect the RSL net-minder to be on his toes. At home and coming off a 3-1 defeat to the Seattle Sounders, the New York Red Bulls will attempt to pepper Real’s goal and shut down the game quickly against opponents that have struggled to find the back of the next in 2017.

What to watch

Captain Kyle Beckerman will be serving his one-match suspension after picking up a red in the match against the LA Galaxy.

His presence will be missed in the midfield, especially against a team that likes to exploit even the slightest space in front of goal – no matter how far out.

Shore must make sure that whomever slots in for Beckerman knows that he will be required to prevent any open space in RSL’s defensive third.

It is imperative that RSL’s midfield pivot hold strong and prevent the Red Bulls from getting any easy chances off against the RSL keeper.


Keys to the Match

1. Playing down the wings – As mentioned before, with so many of the New York player playing centrally, their fullbacks are alone defending down the touchline. If RSL can get their fullbacks into the attack, they might be able to overwhelm the flanks and swing in some good crosses.

2. Keeping possession in their own half – The Claret-and-Cobalt have been punished multiple times for conceding possession in their own half this season. The Red Bulls are another team that like to control the game in the opposition’s half, so the RSL defense will have to remain compact and play smart to avoid any still fouls.

3. Protecting the lead – Twice in the preseason and now one during the regular season the Claret-and-Cobalt took the lead only to drop points. Real’s players have to play smarter when they are in the lead - if you are leading do not get pulled out of position to pressure a throw in in the opposition’s half. Keep compact and play smart, to get the early goal and win the match.


Expected New York Red Bulls Starting Lineup (4-2-2-2):

GK: Robles

DEF: Zizzo, Perrinelle, Long, Lawrence

MID: Felipe, Davis

MID: Muyl, Royer

ATT: Wright-Phillips, Gulbrandsen


Watch RSL take on the New York Red Bulls on Saturday March 25th at 2:00 pm MST on KMYU or listen to Bill Riley on ESPN 700.