The New York Red Bulls travel to Kansas this weekend to take on Sporting Kansas City. SKC, in all likelihood, will be coming off of their ousting from the Concacaf Champions League at the hands of C.F. Monterrey.
Despite boasting strong squads, both SKC and the Red Bulls are finding mixed fortunes in MLS play. The Red Bulls sit on four points after five matches, their lone win against the lowly San Jose Earthquakes. During this difficult start to the season, the Red Bulls offense is missing in action. Their six goals scored this season are artificially inflated thanks to the aforementioned lopsided win over the Earthquakes, 4-1.
Shuffle up and deal
Last week, the Red Bulls shuffled the deck, trying out a new formation and a new starting XI. The inclusion of Cristian Casseres Jr. and Mathias Jørgensen provided additional support in midfield and the front line. Casseres’s impact on the match, contributing the lone goal and helping the Red Bulls press effectively, were greater than Jørgensen’s, but the Dane’s contributions freeing up space for Bradley Wright-Phillips should not be overlooked.
Wright-Phillips average position in the last three matches paints a strong picture of his ineffectiveness against the Chicago Fire and Orlando City SC, but provides a glimmer of hope against Minnesota United FC. Having an extra striker to help occupy the backline might be just the thing that gets the Red Bulls all-time leading scorer back in his groove.
SKC’s huge task against Monterrey make shuffling the lineup easier for Peter Vermes. Thursday night, to advance in CCL, SKC need to score at minimum six goals. While they did clip the Montreal Impact for seven a few weeks ago, that match is an outlier for SKC this season.
In MLS play against teams not named the Impact, they have scored five goals in four matches, conceding four. Some of that struggle can be attributed to the competition they faced, and short weeks juggling CCL play. Looking at their opening match loss to Los Angeles FC, one concern emerged. Can Verme’s high energy press work for 90 minutes with an agin backline?
LAFC exposed SKC, but so did the Colorado Rapids and FC Cincinnati. Again, on short rest, juggling multiple competitions, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions. When they face the Red Bulls this weekend, they have all the motivation they will need to truly start their season.
“I think on both sides of the ball there is room to be sharper,” said Chris Armas from practice this week. “Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for error, we’re just getting punished in some ways. Teams have done well to get there one or two goals on not a whole lot of chances. If we could have it any way, we wouldn’t want it to be 15 goals scored and 12 conceded. We have things sorted out on one side of the ball. We’ve given up six goals in five matches. We see that the works being put in, we believe in our attackers, and the goals will come. We’re in decent spots. We just have to keep pushing, we believe in how we’re working and why we’re working. I’ve always seen that the results will follow.”
Players to watch
Cristian Casseres Jr. The Red Bulls looked more like themselves last week, and that is largely due to Casseres’s selection. The 19-year-old Tyler Adams replacement hype train started this offseason, but he struggled to crack the starting lineup during the Red Bulls first four matches. The lone start against Columbus Crew SC. His defensive instincts and ability to distribute should keep him starting for the time being.
Krisztián Németh is back, and Peter Vermes is once again getting the most out of him. Németh provides the target striker that SKC have lacked for years, and the early returns are encouraging. The Red Bulls have their hands full and will need additional backline support to keep their first clean sheet of the year.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography