Set piece defending a point of worry for first place Red Bulls

In 2018, being tied with San Jose in any statistical category probably isn’t a good thing. With the 3-0 loss to Montreal, the Red Bulls are tied for the second most goals conceded off set pieces in MLS with 10. Despite that, through 28 matches played the Red Bulls have conceded just 29 times making them the second best defensive team in the league.

Set piece defending a point of worry for first place Red Bulls

Usually those statistics don’t coincide with each other, but no other team in MLS has as high of a goals against percentage coming from set pieces. The Red Bulls have conceded a staggering 34% of their goals off of set pieces, behind them in that category is Atlanta with 24%.

It’s easy to see where the Red Bulls’ achilles heel lies and that could be a good thing, especially as playoff time approaches. The reason for their struggles is in large part, zonal marking. Since July 28th vs Columbus, four of ten goal conceded were due to zonal marking mishaps.

Against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Red Bulls conceded a goal off a corner kick that demonstrated the risk of running zonal marking. It can be difficult for a goalkeeper to judge incoming balls with defenders jumping from a set position all across the six yard box. Defenders will jump from a stand still and are more likely to mistime a jump and see a ball fly right over their head subsequently freezing the defender behind them. That’s exactly what happened on the first goal of that game, the corner kick dropped right between Aaron Long and Tim Parker. The flaw of zonal marking is the restriction of movement for defenders to track runs at the risk of unlinking the team’s zone.

The Red Bulls conceded the opening goal to Montreal in a very similar fashion:

Perfect time for a break

Of the remaining six goals on the season, another 2 goals resulted from set pieces while the remaining four came from the run of play. Taking away just half of those goals and the Red Bulls could be odds-on favorites to win Supporters Shield. Yet even with those errors, the Red Bulls are still atop of the league and in a great position to win the regular season trophy.

Identifying these concerns ahead of the playoffs is crucial for the Red Bulls. After the 3-0 loss Chris Armas said , “it’s demoralizing when you give up set piece goals. On the road it’s tough. So, we’ll have to sweat the set pieces out because it’s becoming a potential issue”. And fortunately for New York, losing on Saturday didn’t hurt their chances for Supporters Shield with both Atlanta and NYCFC losing.

On top of that, their congested schedule ends before a two week international break, “At the end of the summer, a break is great.” Armas said, “So, we’ll take the time, use it wisely and recharge. But we’ll be back to work in a few days right where we left off”.

The Red Bulls will return to action on Sunday September 16th when they take on D.C. United at Audi Field.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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