Everyone knows the narrative. On Sunday in the biggest game for the club in a few years, New York Red Bulls will be without arguably the greatest goal scorer in MLS history. The biggest question is who will fill in for Bradley Wright-Phillips in the game that decides the Supporter’s Shield.
Examining RBNY’s options up top against Atlanta United FC
It’s not an easy choice to make for New York Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas. When the team loses a top quality player it’s always hard to find a replacement, but if there is one thing the Red Bulls pride themselves on, it’s their ability to develop young talent. Let’s look at some of the options that the Red Bulls have up front this weekend.
Option 1: Derrick Etienne Jr.
This seems like the most likely choice for Armas in this game, especially given the fact Etienne grabbed himself a goal last weekend against Toronto FC and had a solid shift coming off the bench. He did have some good shifts spelling BWP off the bench earlier in the season, but since then hasn’t really been able to do much when called upon at striker.
While his speed could cause problems for Atlanta United on the counter, the Red Bulls have liked to keep possession more under Armas than they did with Jesse Marsch earlier in the season. When he started up top against Columbus Crew back in July, Etienne was isolated for most of the first half, not to mention the Red Bulls can’t play as direct with him as they do with BWP. He should start this game without a doubt, but it should be on the outside where he is at his best and can give Atlanta’s defense problems.
Option 2: Brian White
The 2018 MLS SuperDraft first round pick has only made two appearances for the first team this year after being signed at the beginning of August. He did impress in his first MLS start, a 1-0 win over Houston where he scored the loan goal. It wasn’t the goal that was impressive about him, it was his ability to do a lot of the dirty work.
The forward held up play well, made several dangerous runs into the box, and worked hard on the night. White had proven this year that he could score in the United Soccer League with 9 goals in 24 appearances. There are things he can improve on, but one quality of his that could favor him starting up top in this game is his ability in the air.
In the game earlier this against Atlanta two of the Red Bulls’ goals came via headers courtesy of BWP. The first was a simple run in front of the defender, while the second came with a run in between two of Atlanta’s center backs. White scored similar goals in USL this year and his attacking instincts in the air as a forward are something that the Red Bulls could use to exploit Atlanta again.
Option 3: Anatole Abang
The wild card option the Red Bulls could use up top. What a story that would be for him. Watching him for NYRB II, his control and ability to hold up the play are big assets, especially with Armas trying to maintain more possession. However, since his return Abang’s finishing has been lacking even with his goal over the weekend.
Abang may be better suited to play with a strike partner. Well there could be a solution to that in the form of Danny Royer. Looking back at the first game, Royer wasn’t playing on the outside when the Red Bulls created a lot of their chances. Instead, he played behind BWP which is what led to the first chance when he strike from distance tested Brad Guzan.
On the penalty, it was Royer’s flick that allowed BWP to draw the foul. On the second goal, Royer has two defenders covering him at the back post. That allows BWP to make the near post run for the header and the goal. On the final goal Royer is once again trailing behind BWP, which occupies a defender for a split second and allows BWP the space to run into for the header. Abang is by no means BWP, but with Royer trailing him or playing closer to the striker which he tends to do, he and Abang could combine well up top to create chances.
And the winner is?
All three players have their pros and cons to star up top and it will be up to Armas to decide how he will want to attack this game and who suits that game plan the best. One thing is certain, the Red Bulls will need to attack this game from the start because Atlanta United has shown they are vulnerable at the back. Whatever the case may be, the Red Bulls will rely on a player up top that has come through their system to help the team earn three points on Sunday.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography