Taking a look at the Red Bulls in a 4-2-2-2

Last Saturday the New York Red Bulls lost 1-0 to the Chicago Fire and put just one shot on target. The day before, New York Red Bulls II won 3-2 over Memphis 901 with a new-look up front. The immediate question asked to John Wolyniec post-game was his decision to start two strikers up top. Turns out, both Tom Barlow and Brian White have proved too valuable to leave either on the bench.

“A lot of times I stay with the same formation just for familiarity. When you change things up it makes it a little bit difficult if you’re not training at it all weekend. But, we had enough this week to work on it and part of the focus was to get Tom and Brian on the field at the same time. It paid some dividends there”

Looking at the Red Bulls first team, the 4-2-3-1 formation remains a formality, with only slight adjustments in player roles and occasional adaptions to combat their opponent’s play style. At the moment, the Red Bulls are either in the midst of an early season goalscoring slump, or they have reached an impasse. At a time when teams are forfeiting possession altogether to frustrate New York, a different look could prove beneficial.

Chris Armas: “We’re working on different systems of play”

It’s something the team is well aware of, after practice on Thursday Chris Armas touched on giving the team a different look, “We’re very comfortable in the 4-2-3-1. Brad’s comfortable operating by himself up there. We know we have Brian White, Mathias Jorgensen, and other guys we can think about up top. We’ve worked on that. We’ve worked on many things. We’re working on different systems of play. We do like the two strikers, we just have to make sure that we have the comfort level with that. Certainly, it would be nice to challenge other teams backlines with some of that stuff. We’ve certainly thought about it.”

With the signing of Mathias Jorgensen, the two striker formation seemed inevitable given the price tag spent on the Dane. But the 4-2-2-2 or some iteration of it might just be around the corner. And looking down the pipeline to Red Bulls II and their experiment with a similar structure, the change could directly translate.

Translating Wolyniec’s tactics to the first team

With the ball starting at Kaku’s feet, there’s plenty of options to play quick and vertical. Also with Lawrence as an overlap option.

In order to get Jorgensen or a second forward on the field, let’s start with Kaku playing the role Jared Stroud played Friday night. Stroud played a pseudo #10 role unlike the more conventional role he’s played in the first two games of 2019. Stroud started in a wide left position, but consistently cut in, also allowing Rece Buckmaster to push further forward.

Drawing a parallel to Kaku is easy. Under Chris Armas’ managerial tenure, Kaku has been occupying wider positions, keeping Kaku where Armas prefers him. When the ball is out on the right side, Kaku can then slide to a more central position that could get him into zone 14 where his production has dissipated.

With the ball at Royer’s feet.

Bradley Wright-Phillips could still operate on the back shoulder and remain a threat in the box with the option of checking to the ball at the 18 yard box. Jorgensen would operate as a center forward, much like Brian White did against Memphis, running the channels and make slashing runs. Jorgensen would provide an outlet and link up with the midfield, although it’s a skill we haven’t seen from him yet.

Daniel Royer would move wide to the right side of the field and still operate much like he did in the 4-2-3-1. As Jorgensen runs the channels or occupies a wide area, Royer can decide to go back post or make a run in the box.

This 4-2-2-2 minimizes Davis’ and Rzatkowski’s roles slightly keeping them at home more often than before. Without a midfield destroyer, the Red Bulls have found it hard to play the same as they did in 2018.

Against the ball in a lower bloc, the team could revert to a 4-2-3-1 with flexibility to rotate Jorgensen and Kaku. Rzatkowski going forward could add more aggression to the press when needed.

I’m spitballing, and a drastic change in the system could prove detrimental in a Shield race, but it might be the best option for the Red Bulls come playoff time. Don’t expect a change for Saturday against Minnesota United, but a bad performance could add to the frustration.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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