Excuses, Excuses as Red Bulls Falter

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By ANTHONY J. MERCED

It is Jesse Marsch‘s third season in charge of the New York Red Bulls and the continuing storyline of “team self-discovery” is wearing thin.

New York suffered another stinging road loss with the glaring emphasis being on a lack of defensive ability. It plagued the team last season and, despite knowing the issue, was one that went unaddressed in the off-season.

“We lost too many defensive match-ups,” Marsch said about Saturday night’s 4-1 loss at Houston. “It wasn’t just losing [Aurélien] Collin [to injury]. It was really all across our back four and then even our defensive midfielders. We just lost too many defensive match-ups.”

Defense has not been a bright spot for this team, especially after a 2016 season where it seemed incapable of holding two-goal leads. Still, Marsch and his team felt it was necessary to bolster the attack with draft picks and the signing of Fredrik Gulbrandsen. All of this was meant to spark goals and highlight-reel moments instead of addressing the team’s needs.

Marsch places a premium on his team’s style of entertaining soccer. He mentioned that last week when addressing the negative tactics some teams employ against the Red Bulls. It is now the neglect of the less flashy elements of the game, however, that is costing his team precious points early in the season.

“This team is still figuring itself out a little bit,” Marsch said. “There’s work to be done. There’s everything from trying to figure out who are our most reliable guys, who we can count on, what the combinations are. We’ve played a lot with two strikers and we don’t seem to be rewarding ourselves and getting ourselves enough leads with that. So we’ve got to visit a lot of different things right now and think about how to get better.”

Marsch’s conundrum about the team “figuring itself out” is a self-inflicted wound. The Red Bulls have shown themselves to be effective over the past two seasons in a 4-2-3-1 system with Sacha Kljestan in the middle and Bradley Wright-Phillips as the lone striker. Moving away from that without any significant change in personnel is confusing and one that appears even more pronounced given the tempestuous off-season. The club now has a battered defense and only five goals for, two of which were own-goals.

Marsch has been tactically savvy and innovative, however, that intelligence also appears to be his Achilles’ heel after tweaking a system that wasn’t particularly broken.