I had the distinct privilege of filling in for Lucas this week on what he’s coined The Inside Look — you may know it by its former name, Three Questions (I like this one much more) — and further, the distinct privilege of asking Once A Metro’s Ben Cork about a side we get to see but once a year.
1. After a moderately disappointing 2019 campaign, what’s changed for your side that gives you hope?
There have been a lot of subtle but significant changes on and off the field this offseason at RBNY. After a season in which Chris Armas and the skeletal backroom staff left by Jesse Marsch appeared overstretched, the club has brought in Kevin Thelwell from Wolverhampton Wanderers to serve as a the new chief sporting executive in addition to other staff from Europe including new scouts and data analysts. On the field, Armas has a team more in his image after jettisoning a great deal of the 2018 shield-winning team including Bradley Wright-Phillips, Luis Robles, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Amir Murillo.
A new 4-2-2-2 formation appeared to pay dividends on the attacking end in the 3-2 win over Cincinnati, though last year’s defensive woes don’t appear to have been shaken. While the team made no blockbuster signings over the offseason, the productive return of “10-and-a-half” attacking midfielder Florian Valot was particularly pleasing on Sunday, with two assists and a tone-setting contribution to the team’s defensive pressure.
2. Goalkeeper is often the base upon which a team is built. With no Luis Robles in goal, how has the coaching staff changed the look of the team?
Besides wearing a neat hat during the second half, new goalkeeper David Jensen - signed from Dutch side FC Utrecht - had an eventful first game. His goal kicks were intentionally driven deep and to the left, a trend that may or may not continue but appears to signal a more coherent plan for goalkeeper distribution, which had often been a sore subject for the otherwise reliable Luis Robles. While Jensen was beaten for two goals, one an unfortunate partial nutmeg by Jurgen Locadia, his presence as a taller, more conventional modern goalkeeper should be a good foundation piece as the team rebuilds.
3. Why should RSL fans be worried about facing RBNY?
Even if they’re no longer the overwhelming force they were in the team’s peaks under Jesse Marsch, RBNY is still always looking to take initiative and score. With the team pursuing the new 4-2-2-2 formation mentioned above, even more players are reaching the box and occupying defenders.
That being said, this difficult opening away trip in elevation should provide an interesting window into how Armas and the new-look team will approach more difficult fixtures. Armas is more inclined to have the team sit deep than his former colleague Marsch, which could lead to dangerous breakouts from speedy, hard-running attackers like Brian White, Daniel Royer, and Tom Barlow. But a more expansive combination-based approach like seen against Cincinnati on Sunday could see attacking midfielders Valot and Kaku hunt for space to get on the ball and allow teammates to run off them.
All in all, predicting which teams RBNY will struggle or thrive against has been exceedingly difficult for the last year and the defense remains shaky, but the team’s still-aggressive approach means teams that aren’t organized will find gaps and lackadaisical marking punished.