New Formation Has Given New Life to Red Bulls

Photograph by Matt Kremkau


Red Bulls logoHARRISON, N.J. – A month ago, the New York Red Bulls had lost for only the second time to cross-Hudson rival New York City FC. They were a game under .500 (7-8-2). They had scored only 17 goals in 16 league matches.

Coach Jesse Marsch felt with the Philadelphia Union next up in the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup he needed to get more midfielders on the field to stifle their wide play.

He trotted out a three-man back line with Aurelien Collin between Damien Perrinelle and Aaron Long. Kemar Lawrence and Sal Zizzo were shifted forward as part of two lines of three midfielders. It worked, for the most part, a 1-1 draw against Philly before the Red Bulls prevailed on penalties.

Marsch seemed pleased, and while the personnel and position of personnel has changed at times, the formation hasn’t. Consequently, the Red Bulls have won six straight – two games in the Open Cup and four in Major League Soccer – and now, after a dominating 4-0 win over the Montreal Impact on Saturday night, he doesn’t think his players will let him go back to a four-man defense.

“I’m still open-minded to four in the back,” Marsch said. “But I think if I show up in the locker room the day before the game and tell the team we’re playing four in the back, they might look at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

Considering the Red Bulls have outscored opponents by 17-4 during the run, Daniel Royer has scored six goals in five games – including a two-goal performance against Montreal, his second in three games – the reaction from the squad maybe stronger than he thinks.

“We’d probably jump him, we’d probably jump him, stomp him out,”said Bradley Wright-Phillips, joking, after he scored his third goal in his last four games on Saturday to hike his team-leading total to 11. “It has been good. He said when started this, when he started bring this to our attention, that he feels it puts all of our players in positions where they can be dangerous.

Sacha [Kljestan] was struggling to get on the board and now he’s finding space; Sean Davis can turn in areas; Danny Royer can turn in areas and they can get shots off. We weren’t getting shots off and now these guys are finding so much space. It has bought out the best in everyone.”

Royer has scored six goals in five games and has closed within one of Wright-Phillips for the team lead.

With Connor Lade and Collin both out injured, Saturday night’s back line had Long in the center between Michael Murillo and Zizzo.

The Red Bulls outshot Montreal by 24-5, and goalkeeper Luis Robles only had to make two saves, one in each half. New York, which had 70 percent of the possession, committed only 10 fouls, while Montreal committed 19.

“We just tried to rotate things mainly (for) three reasons,” Marsch said Saturday night. “One was we were giving up so many set-piece goals, and we felt by having another center back or center-back type player it would give us more guys on the field that would have height and strength and do well in aerial duels. Second was to free up Sacha (Kljestan) more. Teams were really locking into Sacha.

“And then we felt like the big tactic playing against us was to switch the ball. The ability to lock down the wings has meant the teams have to come down the middle on us, then they have to do deal with our pressure. Sacha, tactics, set pieces have led to the decisions.”

Many of Wright-Phillips’ teammates may join their English striker in wanting to “stomp” on Marsch should he suggest reverting to the old formation, but Kljestan feels it still can be useful.

“I think it’s good, especially as you go to the playoffs, to have little wrinkles and be able to adjust,” Kljestan said. “Perhaps in a game where you’re losing and you need to push it a little more, you switch to four and you’re leaving two center backs at home and you’re pushing everybody up for the rest of the game.

“It’s good that we played that way for two years, two-and-a-half years, and we know how to play that way. I think it would be a good wrinkle to be able to throw into a game perhaps late in the season, but I’m very happy with the way things have gone with three in the back.”