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If it ain’t broke, don’t go to five in the back.
By Nick Lagemann
I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve heard that we all need to expect some growing pains with the change to Chris Armas. I know that we need to recognize that he’s not going to be Jesse and will develop and have his own style. And I’ve agreed that we need to give Chris Armas time and space to develop into his own coach and trust that it will work out.
I accepted it after the Red Bulls were largely (but not entirely) outplayed by NYCFC. I swallowed bad first halves against both Sporting KC and the Revolution, allowing myself to view the ultimate victories in those games as signs that things were working. For the D.C. United game, the fact of BWP’s 100th carried me through. But the Columbus game has me concerned, very concerned.
This isn’t a matter of starting Aurelien Collin, or failing to put him the middle of the center backs if you were going to play a five man backline. The problem, as I see it, is, so far, Coach Armas seems willing to let other teams dictate how the team plays. And that is a problem.
For a long time, the Red Bulls have attacked. They’ve pressed. They’ve taken the game to the other team. Yes, there were changes, attempts to play other formations (may the 4-2-2-2 remain buried and gone), but with few exceptions, we came out and took the game to the other team. We all know about the bunkering response and what came in the playoffs, but we played our game and dictated how the game was played on the field.
Against Columbus, however, we didn’t. I would say the same was true for NYCFC, SKC and New England, but that’s more debatable. But there’s no debate about how things went against the Crew. We let the other team and their tactics determine how we played and what we did. And that’s now how it should be done. I know things changed for the better in the road match when we switched to the five man backline in that game, but so what? Given how thoroughly the Crew thrashed an inexperienced backline in the first half, how could things not have improved in that game. Here, we were playing the Crew at home, in our arena, on our field. We should have been playing them on our terms and in our own way.
Also, since Armas’ elevation, with the exception of the D.C. United game, the Red Bulls completely owned the second half of every game, but really looked disjointed in the first half of each game. Why is that? Is it because in the second half the Red Bulls played Red Bulls soccer but tried something different in the first half? Sure looks that way to me. Whether it be a five man backline, or (supposedly) playing out of the back, or whatever, the Armas Red Bulls have looked to be a very different team in the first half of their games than the team that ran off the best start of a season for the club in its history.
I think Chris Armas was, and is, the right coach to take over the team since Jesse decided to say Auf Wiedersehen in the middle of the season. And I think he should put his own stamp on the team and its tactics going forward. But putting your own stamp is not changing the nature of how the team plays. Now is not the time to changes the very fundamentals of how this team plays the game. Yes, try and develop styles to deal with the bunkering come the playoffs. Yes, try and add wrinkles. But stop letting other teams dictate how we play the game. Take the fight to them and make them adjust to us. Not, the other way around.
Photo By Bill Twomey Photography