Eye on Tactics: RBNY clinch playoffs with necessary personnel rotation


by COLEMAN LARNED, Lead Analyst

rbny por 9-20-15 formationNew York Red Bulls clinched an MLS playoff berth with two goals at the death of the first half in a 2-0 victory against a toothless Portland Timbers side.

After a dominant first half performance from New York with a new personnel look, the visiting Red Bulls conceded midfield control and defended crosses as a result until the final whistle.

With Dax McCarty having to sit due to yellow card accumulation and the regular season’s end drawing closer, Jesse Marsch deemed this an opportunity for significant trials of stamina, impact and positional flexibility. The four changes from a team where nine players start at least 75% of matches were: Davis for McCarty at CM, Zizzo for Lade at RB, Shaun Wright-Phillips for Grella at LM and Veron for Sam at RM.

Caleb Porter found himself and his team in a different position in relation to a playoffs prior to the match. Seeded as the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, Portland needed to spawn consistency from a team that gained 10 from a possible 27 points in their last 9 matches (2-4-3).

As RBNY clinched a playoff birth in impressive fashion as the first MLS team to do so this season, with the highest PPG (points per game) total (1.71), tied for most total points (48) and the best GD (goal differential) (17), I will highlight the necessary personnel changes made during the match.

Sal Zizzo @ RB

rbny por 9-20-15 zizzo too much space 1rbny por 9-20-15 zizzo too much space 2

Sal Zizzo slotted in as expected for Connor Lade — a move that indicates Marsch is trying to find a position for Zizzo as Grella has cemented himself in the starting role and Sean Wright-Phillips provides a more dynamic option in the wide, left channel.

I thought Zizzo was consistently exposed in his defensive judgement, but showed the ability to break down the right flank and provide an option in possession. What was curious was his positioning in relation to the most positionally advanced Portland midfielder, Melano. Zizzo’s average position was well beyond that of Melano’s, which caused 1v1 scenario’s with RBNY CB Miazga, which he fortunately handled like a player who needs a USMNT call up.

Key Stats: 1 assist, 1/3 accurate crosses, dispossessed 3 times

Davis @ CM

rbny por 9-20-15 davis connecting

Sean Davis’ performance was a tale of two halves. His first half was defined by covering the most ground of the two CM’s, connecting possession in all thirds of the field (29 total passes, 20 in offensive half) and consistently breaking up Portland’s play. His second half was offensively ineffective (15 total passes, 7 in offensive half) and as the game turned into a series of reciprocated transitions, the pace didn’t suit him.

His languid playing style, sharp technique and large frame allowed him to positively affect many game variables. As he hasn’t had the chance to get consistent, first team minutes, the understanding of balanced responsibility, which McCarty and Felipe have developed over the season, was absent and therefore the depth on both sides of the ball was lacking from the pair.

Key Stats: 43 pass (76.7% PA, 27 in offensive half), 2 interceptions, 5 clearances, 1 blocked shot

Shaun Wright-Phillips @ LM

Shaun Wright-Phillips was the least influential of the four highlighted players. His first touch was amateurish in the first half and he was defensively non-existent throughout his appearance. It will take time for SWP to get accustomed to match speed once again after such a lengthy absence from the game, so Jesse Marsch is rightfully banking on the potential.

Signs of raw speed, unpredictability on the ball and a learned understanding with his brother were evident, but mostly didn’t come off for the winger. As he tended to drift inside to combine, his touch and ability in tight spaces let him down, allowing for Lawrence to overlap and provide another offensive option deep in the left channel.

Key Stats: 5 shots (0 on target), 32 passes, 2 attempted dribbles (take-ons)

Gonzalo Veron @ RM

Gonzalo Veron provided a constant threat as an outlet, wide on the touchline for RBNY. His sense of when to stay away from possession and to create width for his side was complemented by his ability and willingness to check to the interior and find the ball at the right moments.

The winger proved two key aspects of his game that will be beneficial going forward: his ability to get out of tight spaces individually against multiple defenders and his willingness to directly drive at defenders while maintaining possession through balance and strength.

His width and directness provided a change of pace in RBNY’s transition, and pinned his opposing defender deep into his own half. Jesse Marsch has options with which to react to opposition with, or to continue to impress his style upon the opposition with his wide right midfielders (Sam and Veron).

Key Stats: 96.2% PA (passing accuracy), 4 key passes, 7 crosses

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  • slowleftarm

    I like the articles on tactics. Thanks Coleman!

    • Coleman Larned

      My pleasure. Anything you’d like to see more of?

      • slowleftarm

        I can tell you what I’d like to see less of. Stop covering NYCFC and the Cosmos. Let’s keep this site for the REAL soccer fans!

        • Coleman Larned

          Competition is the answer, my friend.

    • William

      u mean the Harrison Red Bulls ?

      • slowleftarm

        Actually didn’t mention the team’s name but yes they are located in Harrison. They also play in arguably the best SSS in the country, as opposed to a turf college lacrosse stadium.

        • William

          what that tin can what the hell is that thing a UFO ?

          • William

            ill mention it for u cuz that’s the type of guy I am thank me !

            • slowleftarm

              Go listen to The Streets you hooligan :)

              • William

                thank me for educating u effin drone

          • Coleman Larned

            I’d watch soccer in that spaceship all day.

  • You mentioned that Zizzo was exposed defensively. Do you see Marsch keeping him as 2nd choice (3rd if not for hack LI) RB and hoping he gets more comfortable defensively, or being fine with his defensive frailties b/c of his contribution on offense, or going with someone else who is better defensively? Not sure how you’d know what he’s thinking, but thought I’d ask.

    • Coleman Larned

      I think Zizzo @ RB was a chance for Marsch to see where he could fit him going forward. With Lade being out and injuries to defenders it was an opportunity for Zizzo, which I think he took decently. He provides a calm option in the opposition’s half, but he would be a defending weakness that other sides would exploit.

  • Andrew Bissonette

    I didn’t think Zizzo was that bad. He was able to contain players better than Lade and provided a much better possession and passing type of player.

    • Coleman Larned

      Nor do I, but I don’t necessarily agree with the containment. He provides a different offensive look than that of Marsch’s options @ RB, but defending is certainly not his strength.

  • William

    RB’s biggest choke artists I have ever seen playoffs who cares ?

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