The New York Red Bulls have just played their tenth match of the regular MLS season. For sake of perspective, that is still less than one third of the games that will make up the 2019 regular season. Beyond that lies the playoffs, ending with the MLS Cup final. Additionally, the Lamar Hunt Open Cup brings in MLS teams in the third round, which is still weeks away.
This is all to say that, although RBNY’s situation looks bad, there is still time and improvement is possible. It isn’t a matter of luck, hope, or blind belief. It is a matter of reliance on the puzzle pieces that have done so much for the team leading to this point: their defensive options.
Barring injury, these are the players who most often go the full 90 in every game. They track attackers and have been known to clear a shot at the goal line. They come from the international level as well as the homegrown academy. Defenders make their goalkeeper captain’s job a little easier week in and week out. Going forward, options for the Red Bulls back line remain strong.
“So right now, we’re just trying to work out the kinks and trying to learn from our mistakes.”-Aaron Long, following a 1-2 loss against the Montreal Impact
Despite the lack of clean sheets for the first team, Aaron Long and Tim Parker are still the centerback pairing that bolster the back line. Parker is the best option to drop back, even to the goal line as necessary. He also has the physicality that can force the turnover and start the team press. Meanwhile Long surges forward and is an attacking threat in the air. He tallied his first 2019 goal against the Impact. Unfortunately, he also suffered a hamstring injury that might keep him out, not to mention another possible call-up for the USMNT. It could be up to Sean Nealis to be the next man up in these situations. Amro Tarek will also have an opportunity to slide into a central position.
– Amro Tarek, on his goal against LA Galaxy
I think my first job is to get the shut out and not consider the goal but it’s always something good and it’s a plus to score a goal. So I’m really happy about it.
So far, three defenders have scored on the opposition in the 2019 season– Long, Tarek, and Connor Lade. In addition, midfielder Alex Muyl has reiterated himself as a wingback option and has scored twice so far this season. Defensive depth will be particularly important as the season winds its way through the summer. The CONCACAF Gold Cup will bring international call-ups, particularly Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) and Michael Amir Murillo (Panama). Look for Kyle Duncan to factor in more heavily and relieve homegrown veteran Lade.
Might a midsummer opening in the defensive lineup become available? Would the team then trade like for like in the transfer window? Or will they forego that option and return to their USL side for backup? The luxury of time will soon fade.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography