Know Your Enemy: New York Red Bulls

The first two times the Union and Red Bulls met this season — once in May in league at Red Bull Arena and again in the US Open Cup at Talen Energy Stadium — Jesse Marsch was in charge. Now Chris Armas is at the helm of the ship, but very little has changed. This is still a team that defends with aggression, values field position, and induces poor decisions with relentless control of second balls.

You know them already

Over time, New York has refined their pressing, tightened their shape, and become ever-more difficult to break down. They have retained the services of centurion Bradley Wright-Phillips up top to ensure that even though they generate far fewer shots than the rest of the top clubs in MLS (except Dallas, which ranks 10th in the league), any threats are finished off ruthlessly.

You know New York because they have been up in your face ever since Jesse Marsch took over, and that will not change now that Chris Armas has moved up a rung.

Dynamic in defense

The Red Bulls want to make soccer a game of non-stop transition. Their stunning counterpress is built to disrupt any coherent build-up play, and then their well-honed anticipatory movements allow them to conquer loose balls and quickly push the pace of a game. And while brilliant creator Kaku has quickly settled in as a star this season, the primary driver of New York’s success has been the play of their central defenders.

Tim Parker was acquired from Vancouver Whitecaps to partner with Aaron Long, and the duo have been sensational. Since both have size and mobility, Red Bulls can push their athletic wingbacks into attacks, creating quick overloads in the wide areas that open space for Kaku centrally. Long and Parker are both able to win 1v1 battles with strikers, and they are extremely careful to push play wide so Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo on the outside have shorter recovery runs. Lawrence, in the midst of a super season, has taken advantage of his freedom to get into attacks while showcasing intelligence in when he goes and stays.

Adams or not

Tyler Adams has been sitting out with a back issue recently, but he could be available next Saturday. If the midfielder can’t go, Mark Rzatkowski is likely to step into the breach. Although he’s less physically imposing, Rzatkowski seems to have figured out his positional role under Armas and has flourished recently. In short, don’t expect and fall-off if Adams isn’t in the lineup. Once a team bests Atlanta United while missing Tyler Adams and Bradley Wright-Phillips, as NYCRB did recently, they get respect.

Respect and fear are, however, quite different. And the Union do not need to fear New York Red Bulls. The aim of any Red Bulls gameplan is to play at a suffocating pace, keeping opponents’ heads down and making it nearly impossible to pick out longer passes that open the pitch. In the Open Cup, Philly countered the Red Bulls’ pressure by taking on the first defender and then looking to switch the field of play or quickly combine to take advantage of the brief man-advantage situation created when a defender ran past his man.

This will be a high-octane match, and both teams have a lot to play for even this late in the season. Red Bulls want the Supporters’ Shield, and the Union want third place. It’s a playoff match before the playoffs for two club that don’t need the extra incentive to come out hard against each other. Check it out on Sunday, October 21 at Talen Energy Stadium at 3PM ET.

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