Want to see a New York Red Bulls fan cringe? Speak the formation named 4-2-2-2 aloud.
During Jesse Marsch’s tenure, the 4-2-2-2 gained a reputation as a “plan B” for dealing with teams that learned to negate the Red Bulls high press. The formation reared its head during the early days of each season from 2016 on, usually with dismal returns. The promising two forward system broke down under the strain the formation put on the central midfield each implementation.
When Chris Armas’s team lined up in the formation during preseason, it added to the anxiety around the club following a difficult offseason of change.
The results in preseason show a different implementation of the system then the Red Bulls employed in the past. The biggest change comes from the patience seen resetting the press in transition, and it has made the Red Bulls a bit harder to break down. Often, teams looked to pull the Red Bulls wide, or attempted to break the lines with long balls. The latter proved especially effective in 2019, and thwarting those attempts became a focus this offseason.
“Chris [Armas] and the staff have done a great job of stressing the importance of staying compact,” said newly named captain Sean Davis at media day. “Whether we’re going with an all-out press, or a mid-block, or a low-block, the team has to go together. If it becomes too stretched, that’s where we run into problems. It’s important to keep an eye out, as the games progress. But we’ve done a really good job of the backline moving, pushing the 6 up, pushing the 10 and 8 up. Moving as a team. That’s ultimately what allows us to succeed. Being together, being a group.”
The togetherness mantra is more than just a buzz word around the Red Bulls in 2020. In a literal sense, the press is evolving to be more connected this year. The added level of organization is meant to help win the ball back and transition quickly. Finding Kaku in more dangerous spots further up the field will likely boost the playmakers ability to create danger, making the Red Bulls attack more potent.
In fact, success in the maligned formation, is predicated on how effective the midfield is winning second balls, but also on how comfortable players like Davis, Cristian Casseres Jr., and Kaku look in the system. All three are excited about the change, and think it will bring success. Kaku cited his comfortability in the role, equating it to how he lined up playing for Club Atlético Huracán.
Casseres Jr. thinks the ability to be effective in the new system comes from the team’s increasingly younger roster. The Red Bulls start the season with one of the youngest squads in the team’s history, and grinding out results down the stretch may rely on the workload those young players can take on.
“It’s a new system, but we are prepared to play in whatever role or system that the coach and team chooses,” said Casseres Jr. “I feel that this system will help the team because since we’re young, we like to run and have a lot of energy. It’s something that’s going to help us a lot, especially now that we’ll have two strikers instead of one, and that’ll give us more scoring chances.”
Preseason results don’t matter though. The Red Bulls must come out of the gate quickly in 2020, hitting the road for 8 of their first 12 matches. Maximizing points at home in the early stretch is critical. Is the new formation enough to get the job done when the games count? The Red Bulls get to answer that question this weekend when they take on FC Cincinnati.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography