Numerical advantage exposes Red Bulls achilles heel

Marc Rzatkowski

A road tie against your rival in a mid-week game coming off a west coast road trip is usually an accomplishment. But Wednesday night’s fixture wasn’t your typical match, or New York Derby for that matter.

Numerical advantage exposes Red Bulls achilles heel

New York City FC midfielder, Eloi Amagat, was given a straight red card in the 40th minute for his horrendous tackle on Marc Rzatkowski. The New York Red Bulls played the subsequent 33 minutes with a man advantage but failed to capitalize, instead they conceded in the 52nd minute making it 1-1.

The Red Bulls’ chance to win the game came in the 73rd minute when Ebenezer Ofori was given a straight red card for his challenge on Bradley Wright-Phillips.

In the remaining seventeen minutes plus seven minutes of stoppage time, playing 11 v 9, the Red Bulls were unable to turn a point into three points.

Numerical advantage for last 50 minutes of game

When Amagat was sent off, New York City FC shifted simply from a 3-5-2 into a 4-3-2 of sorts. Ebenezer Ofori tucked in centrally and played as New York’s deepest lying midfielder. Alexander Ring and Maxi Moralez played above Ofori, tasked with a lot of responsibility as Jo Inge Berget lurked up top with David Villa.

Domenec Torrent subbed off Ismael Tajouri-Shradi for a bigger body in Jo Inge Berget at halftime. The goal for NYCFC was to play longballs to Berget so Villa can find his scraps or Ring and Moralez could win second balls in the midfield. That worked to perfection in the 52nd minute when Berget’s knock down header found David Villa who shot and scored from the top of the 18 yard box. Berget’s night was done 11 minutes in due to injury forcing Torrent to use another substitution.

Midfield Absent

When NYCFC went down to 10 men, the Red Bulls didn’t change their mode of attack on the left side of the field. The Red Bulls central midfield trio lacked space, one due to the small field, but also because of the lack of width. Royer playing right behind BWP gave NYCFC a life line in the midfield where they should have been outnumbered. This also further impeded Kemar Lawrence from getting forward and overloading the left side of the field for the Red Bulls.

When Andreas Ivan entered the game in the 68th minute things changed for the Red Bulls. Marc Rzatkowski offered little on the right side of the field which is obviously not his preferred position. Ivan entered the game right before Ofori who was sent off creating an open game for the winger. Ivan continually got down the right flank and served in 4 crosses, and on the defensive end got in one tackle, two recoveries and an interception. While the final product wasn’t there for Ivan, he offered width needed to open the game up for the Red Bulls’ central midfielders.

With that said though, the Red Bulls’ midfield vanished even with the added space. While the Red Bulls didn’t find many meaningful chances from their crosses in the final 18 minutes of the game, they could have with late runs into the box. Those didn’t come for a couple of reasons.

Armas’ substitution of Davis in the 68th minute forced Tyler Adams to play deeper and protect the backline. This didn’t allow Tyler Adams to do what he does best, disrupt the game high up on the field.

Kaku wanting the ball at his feet pulled the strings from deep keeping him farther from goal. This also allowed NYCFC to find an escape valve in Ebenezer Ofori who was NYCFC’s savior in the second half before he saw red in the 73rd minute. In the second half operating in the sole defensive midfield role, Ofori misplaced just two of ten passes. Pressing Ofori harder could have given the Red Bulls more chances while helping them maintain their shape.

Marc Rzatkowski on the other hand was just completely absent from the attack, often too far away from goal withdrawn from the center of the field. In the 80th minute a golden chance occurred when Kaku found Kemar Lawrence free on the left side. With plenty of space Kemar Lawrence put in a perfect cross for an on-running attacker at the penalty spot but nobody was there. All three central midfielders were 30-40 yards from goal.

Disjointed Red Bulls

When Derrick Etienne Jr entered the field in the 83rd minute, the Red Bulls did create opportunities amongst the chaos that was this derby game. But in going all out for the win, the Red Bulls became even more disconnected as their opponents scrambled to defend. The Red Bulls’ 4-2-3-1 became a 4-2-4 at times and in stoppage time became a 3-2-5 when Aaron Long shot forward.

All in all, the Red Bulls lost the midfield in a game when two NYCFC midfielders were sent off. The Red Bulls became to anxious to get forward and hurled everything forward too quick.

Post-game Chris Armas was asked why this team struggles to slow the tempo down in big games especially with momentum on their side.

Armas replied,” I don’t think we have a hard time, I’ve seen us control games, late in games, against the ball, with the ball, even in the first half. So when the opposition is putting a lot of guys back counter-attacking with some world class footballers up the field, it does set up so it could look like that.”

Armas lauded NYCFC’s midfielders and reiterated the difficulty of breaking them down. “They put a lot into it, it’s not just they sat back and didn’t do anything, we were just self-destructing, so you give them a lot of credit.”

When looking back at the game tape, it’s evident the Red Bulls did self-destruct.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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