Eye on Tactics: Battle in the middle third proves Red Bulls’ flexibility, Seattle’s individual quality

Lead Analyst

A battle in the middle third was caused by both the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Soundeers receding their creative midfielders to overload possessive spaces. The Red Bulls were able to maintain the ball a bit higher up the pitch than Seattle by condensing their front 4, but were unable to nyrb sea may 31, 2015 formationfashion many full-chances from threatening positions.

Jesse Marsch returned Perrinelle to partner with Ouimette at CB, reinstating the line-up that recently drew with FC Dallas. What originally started as Red Bulls’ typical 4-2-3-1 shape condensed to a 4-5-1 and a 4-1-4-1 with McCarty sitting deep in the hole and Kljestan withdrawing to Felipe’s depth, defensively.

Sigi Schmidt’s Sounders established a similar shape, with natural permutations; a 4-4-2 base formation, that shifted into a 4-5-1 and a 4-1-3-1-1 with Dempsey roaming to affect Red Bulls deep possession.

The teams entered the match with both leading the league in possession % (NY: 55.6%; SEA: 54.4%) and in the top 3 of total passes attempted (NY: 459.2; SEA: 501.2), hence the intended midfield congestion. This spacing created consistent 1v1 matchups: Kljestan vs Alonso and Dempsey vs McCarty, both in similar spaces.
nyrb sea may 31, 2015 def pressAs Red Bulls’ shape evolves, the ability to adapt will become paramount, and this was the most challenging test of this flexibility so far this season. There were positional and geometrical aspects that were completely new against Seattle and New York reacted quite well, despite the 2-1 loss.

As Seattle likes to possess the ball where their 1st and 2nd phase meet through distribution from Evans and Alonso, Red Bulls crowded the space by pressing with five (Wright-Phillips above a flat 4 of Grella, Felipe, Kljestan and Sam).

Kljestan was expected to drop flat defensively, as Felipe was equally expected to progress to become flat, and then positionally advance offensively to create depth and to combine with Wright-Phillips.

nyrb sea may 31, 2015 left side overload

Grella, as he tends to, pinched narrowly to help defend with the press in a line of four and to allow Lawrence to overlap with offensive runs.

Lawrence extended himself too frequently and Seattle countered by keeping Roldan wide and encouraged Mears to get involved in the attack. 43% of Seattle’s offensive actions happened on their right flank.





All three goals scored in the game were different and raised tactical questions:

  1. NYRB 1 – 0 SEA: Free-kick for New York about 20 yards out was squarely rolled to Wright-Phillips, whose shot was deflected and bounced in front of Sam who originally lined up behind the wall. The positioning of Sam was clever (to screen the goalie by extending the wall and to pounce of rebounds), but he was left unmarked because of the square lay-off to Wright Phillips which extracted defenders towards the ball.
  2. NYRB 1 – 1 SEA: Red Bulls pressed high with five men, recovered the ball in their offensive third and couldn’t convert. Seattle countered quickly to find space in between Red Bulls’ midfield and back four, which Martins drives into. Pappa is eventually isolated on left hand side against Duvall and turned the defender inside out to produce a brilliant individual goal.
  3. NYRB 1 – 2 SEA: Another moment of individual technique and drive was produced by Clint Dempsey to win the game in the 90th minute. The attacking midfielder again curled underneath McCarty to distribute wide and was then found back post after darting past every opposing midfielder and defender to put the ball back across the face of the goal. An individual goal to break the deadlock of the midfield battle – although marking and tightness to the crosser were tactical issues – was what ended the match.

Although zero points were taken in Seattle, Marsch can be encouraged by the squad’s willingness to battle and stay rigid in their defensive intentions. Kljestan and Felipe both proved they have the engine to defend in a flat four and break free on either end to provide offensive depth.

This was the most beneficial struggle Red Bulls have been in all season, and will mature because of it.

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