With six games left, the New York Red Bulls have shown to be one of the league’s most inconsistent teams. The final six games will pit them against some of the league’s best, both and home and on the road, which is the perfect litmus test for Chris Armas’ side.
After Saturday night’s tilt against the Colorado Rapids, who currently sit in 11th place in the Western Conference, the New York Red Bulls begin a five-game stretch to close out 2019 against five playoff-caliber teams.
Following a lengthy break after the Rapids contest, the Red Bulls will spend a few days in the Pacific Northwest for showdowns with Seattle (Sept. 15) and Portland (Sept. 18).
Both teams feature playmakers and exciting players in the attacking third that will give the Red Bulls midfield and backline valuable tests to close out the season. It has been no secret that throughout the season, one of this team’s main problems has been the vulnerability in the back, which comes as a surprise considering their defensive dominance last season.
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Seattle’s recent 2-1 victory over Portland can give the Red Bulls a blueprint of how the Sounders like to attack. It’s safe to say that whoever Chris Armas selects as the outside backs for the game are going to be in for a busy day.
The Sounders went into Portland emphasizing players like Jordan Morris picking up the ball on the flank and driving directly at the backline to try and get in behind. There wasn’t any particularly speed that Seattle was building up with, however, once the ball reached the attacking third, the Sounders’ wingers wasted no time. So, while Michael Murillo, Kemar Lawrence or whoever ends up playing outside back will be busy, it will also be up to the center-backs to make their presence known in the box.
Specifically, on Seattle’s second goal against Portland, the visitors only had three attackers in the box while the Timbers had five defenders waiting in the middle. However, Raul Ruidiaz somehow found himself in yards of space before wonderfully slotting home to give his side the insurance goal they needed to escape the Cascadia Cup with a 2-1 victory on the road.
No matter which way the Red Bulls – Sounders game ends, the team is going to need to quickly regroup to focus on a motivated Portland team, who currently sit a mere three points outside of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
It has been the case for many years, but the Timbers still run through Diego Valeri. With his 15 assists, which is tied for second in the league, the Argentine is going to again test the team’s organization and communication between the backline and the midfield. With the risks of the high press and all the space that it can create, Cristian Cassares and Sean Davis will be key in keeping the shape of the team so Valeri won’t be able to face up to goal and pick his passes.
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Armas has a complex situation to handle when it comes to running the high press for these two games. As much as the outside backs and midfield being exposed can and will lead to problems for the Red Bulls defense, the pressure will also certainly lead to goal-scoring opportunities. Despite being on the road against two quality opponents, the Red Bulls should have plenty of opportunities to score.
Both Portland and Seattle have allowed 40 goals in 2019. With Bradley Wright-Phillips continuing to return to full fitness, as evidenced by his start in last week’s Hudson River Derby, while exciting loanee Josh Sims becomes more familiar with the team, and with Kaku, Daniel Royer and Marc Rzatkowski all enjoying productive seasons, fans should be cautiously optimistic about where the attacking options stand right now.
However, when the team heads back to the east coast following those two games, the schedule doesn’t let up. Games against Philadelphia, currently second in the Eastern Conference, and their high-flying attack (51 goals) on the year will be another tough test. The Red Bulls will certainly be out for revenge after blowing a 2-0 lead quickly turned into a 3-2 defeat, spearheaded by second-half super substitute Ilsinho, at the hands of the Union the last team these two teams met in June.
Similar to Seattle, the Red Bulls outside backs will again be tested if the previous matchup is any indication. Ilsinho did all of his damage from the Union’s right flank, each time taking defenders one-on-one en route to disaster for the Red Bulls.
With 47 goals scored, without Wright-Phillips for a significant portion of the season, the Red Bulls final stretch of games will test the team’s ability to remain organized as a defensive unit. The four games listed above will precede a finale against Montreal on the road later in September, another matchup with a team that’s just outside of the playoff picture, but a more than capable team.
An important factor in these last few games is that the two games against Seattle and Portland, both quality teams, will come on the road where the team has struggled with a 4-7-3 record. Currently as the fourth seed if the MLS Playoffs started today, the team needs to show the ability to get a result on the road if they want to make the elusive MLS Cup run, compared to years past when the team has been a higher seed and hosted games deeper into the playoffs.
This final leg of the regular season will give fans the gauge of whether this consistently inconsistent squad can put a good run of form together heading into October and beyond.