The Lions embark on their second trip to the New York area of this young 2016 MLS season this weekend, when they visit Red Bull Arena to take on last season's Supporters Shield winners. New York is off to a rough start this season, with just a 1-6-0 record and three points in seven matches this season, bad enough for the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.
In fact, the Red Bulls have been shut out five times in those seven matches. This run of poor form has to end some time, but let's hope it's not in the next few weeks, as Orlando City faces New York twice in the next three weekends. If the Lions pay close attention to this scouting report, and avoid any more creative officiating, they may be able to add to New York's early season woes.
New York Red Bulls run a 4-2-3-1 formation that differs from Orlando City's version. The Red Bull formation is based more centrally, and the play of their central midfield is crucial to their success. They have a strong midfield that becomes very interchangeable, and they'll use the midfield to push forward and press teams in their defensive third to create turnovers.
Dax McCarty (11) - MF
McCarty is the workhorse in the NYRB midfield. He is going to outwork every one of your midfielders and put your back four under pressure while doing it. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time inside the penalty area, but he is more of a box-to-box midfielder and isn't a big threat to shoot. He only had one goal last year on 18 shots. Instead, he's going to be a player who puts his peers in great positions to score. He is a very complete player, and the one way teams have shut him down is by being more physical with him.
Sacha Kljestan (16) - MF
Kljestan is a player that will agitate other players in the midfield; he brings experience and he will try to take your best players out of the game. He's a solid defender who's not afraid to get stuck in on tackles. He does well to draw fouls, as we saw on the infamous Cyle Larin faux red card. That play is a great representation of his knowledge of the game and his situational awareness. He is one of their set-piece takers and is dangerous from 20 yards and out. Kljestan is inconsistent, however, and he basically disappeared in the Columbus playoff series. If the team starts to play out wide, Kljestan tends to get lost and doesn't know where he can help in the attack.
Luis Robles (31) - GK
Robles right now is one of the best goalkeepers in the league. He is an excellent shot stopper and has great footwork while covering his box. He can steal points for the Red Bulls in games they have no business winning. The best way to beat him is creating 1-v-1 situations behind his inexperienced back line. The woes this year for this team are not because of Robles, but rather his back line.
Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) - FW
Wright-Phillips is a streaky striker. But if he is on a roll scoring goals, look out, because he can be one of the best in the league. However, when he is off, he is a below average striker. He will be getting behind the back line and looking for through balls from McCarty. He takes the penalty kicks for the Red Bulls and he tends to go down the middle third of the goal with them.
Keys to Victory
Exploit the Weak Back Line
Matt Miazga has left for Chelsea, and this team misses his stable play. The back line has been suspect for most of the beginning of the year, as they don't have the cohesion they had last year that made them one of the best units in MLS. The center forward needs to pull one of the center backs out of shape. A good target No. 9 striker could have a career day as they don't do well marking a strong, athletic forward.
New York will press high into your back line, and when that happens the Red Bulls tend to foul high up the field. Something you don't want to do is commit bad turnovers in your defensive third. Against a team that presses high like the Red Bulls, it will be OK to relieve the pressure by playing the ball long over the top. The worst thing you can do is give them a short field to attack down the center when you're not organized. A team will need to know when it's OK to build out of the back or play it long.
Limit McCarty and Kljestan's touches
McCarty, Kljestan, and sometimes Mike Grella in the midfield for the Red Bulls need their rhythm and touches. McCarty will develop the attack in middle of the field and Kljestan and the other midfielders will look to create the attack in the final third. The Red Bulls are at their best when they are pressing high or when they own the possession. A team that can keep the ball more than the Red Bulls can keep players like McCarty and Kljestan from getting into a rhythm and force them to be more direct when they do get the ball.
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The Lions will need to play with more possession than they have in their last two road games to maximize their chances of success. They must avoid the turnovers we've seen in the defensive half, and take advantage of Cyle Larin's size and athleticism up front.