Red Bulls Report Card

Matt Kremkau

By ANTHONY J. MERCED

imagesThe New York Red Bulls have played 11 games, which is a fair amount of time to assess the state of the team.

Roughly one-third of the way through the 2017 Major League Soccer season, the club is 5-5-1 record with 16 points, in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. There is no denying the Red Bulls are in a better place than their 3-7-1 record after 11 games last year. Many issues, however, mirror 2016.

EoS takes stock and chimes in with our early-season, trimester assessment.

Coach Jesse Marsch has waxed philosophical about his team’s need to be physical and/or mentally strong. But pressed for answers about why his team can’t execute, there is no definitive answer. In early-season games he sacrificed results to implement a system that failed in 2016 with the same basic lineup. An insistence on a 4-4-2 bucket formation was unproductive and stifled the production of key players. New York put together three wins on a recent home stand, but has lost five straight away from Red Bull Arena and was shutout in the most-recent two. Another three-game home stand could help, or it might not. Grade: D

Bradley Wright-Phillips, the Red Bulls’ career leading goal scorer, hasn’t had a strong start to 2017, but that can be attributed, partly, to the team’s tactical approach. Since a return to a 4-2-3-1, Wright-Phillips has looked more dangerous in front of goal and taken more shots on target. He has scored four goals, putting himself at the right place at the right time. Now that he is partnered with Sacha Kljestan he looks more comfortable, and the goals should come. Grade: B

Sacha Kljestan, the Red Bulls captain, hasn’t lived up to the expectations that go with being elevated to wearing the armband with the departure of Dax McCarty. Simply put, he has looked sluggish. Last season he set the benchmark for assists (20) and seemed to be involved in nearly every scoring play. A return to central midfield has yet to rekindle the offense. At 31, he hinted that recovery time is an issue, which could come into play across a long season. Still, Kljestan is a candid leader and a strong locker-room presence. Grade: C

Daniel Royer joined the team in the middle of 2016, making an immediate impact and upping the quality in midfield. It took him some time to settle in and contribute, statistically, but has come around this year. He scored the team’s opening goal in Atlanta and one more since. He has had moments where his interchange with Wright-Phillips has befuddled opposing defenses, but he has also had stretches where he disappears on offense. If he can stay consistent and stay wide, he can be a valuable asset. His height (5-10) is a plus on corner kicks. Grade: B

Alex Muyl, 21, (that’s mu-wheel to you) is the team’s most improved player. Last year Marsch praised his never-ending energy but Muyl was counseled to slow down in the final third. He took the advice to heart and has nailed down his spot on the right wing with two goals this season. He has proved to be a reliable starter while some of the team’s international players sit and watch. Grade: A-

Tyler Adams is only 18, and often looks it on the field, but he plays like a rugged 25-year-old. He is smart with the ball at his feet and precise with his passing. He has a head for the game often absent in older players. Perhaps his only weakness is his slight stature (5-9, 150) in a rough-and-tumble league. But that should be an easy fix. He will be absent for the better part of a month playing for the United States in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea (he has already departed).  Grade: A-

Felipe has not been impressive so far, but that could be because of his increased responsibilities defensively forcing him to sit deeper in the midfield. He has two assists but his free kicks have not been as productive as last year, when he scored five goals. There is still time for him to amp up his offense. Grade: C

Matt Kremkau

Kemar Lawrence

Kemar Lawrence has been the team’s most consistent player, along with Aaron Long. Lawrence provides a tantalizing second option on the wing, sending dangerous crosses into the opposition’s box. He is strong tracking back against other teams’ skill players and contributed the game-winning goal against Chicago. But his rugged play can be costly — he’s taken some hard knocks to the head. Personal issues at home in Jamaica have caused him to miss starts. He will also probably be absent during the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the summer. Grade: A

Damien Perrinelle has battled injury, though he has often been a liability when healthy. Poor decisions with the ball and his loose marking have been costly, putting pressure on his partners in defense. With Aurelien Collin dogged by injuries and perhaps a step slower, Marsch has had few options. Grade: F

Aaron Long was not expected to play every minute of every game in defense thus far, but there you have it. He has quickly adjusted to MLS with only a missteps. He is quick on the ball and physical when it’s been called for. He has put eight shots on goal showing his versatility and willingness to work both ends of the field. Grade: A+

Sal Zizzo has been merely serviceable as a place-holder at right back. He played well early in the season, but the emergence of Micheal Amir Murillo most likely relegates Zizzo to spot duty off the bench. Grade: D

Luis Robles has been indispensable. The iron man in goal has made key saves in nearly every game. He kept the team in the game against the Fire and did his best against a Kansas City team that fired a barrage at him. His goals against average (1.36) may not be eye-catching, but he’s often been left on his own. He is vocal and with Kljestan is the team’s on-field coach. Grade: A+

Incompletes

Gonzalo Verón is an enigma wrapped in an ACE bandage. He has again spent most of the season on the trainer’s table, and his first start (last week against Sporting Kansas City) was underwhelming. The designated player from Argentina is the latest in a long line of expensive mis-fires for the organization.

Sean Davis looked solid and appeared to be growing into his midfield role until Adams came along and snatched the spot. He will have time to show himself in the absence of Adams.

Connor Lade has been a plucky fan favorite as long as he’s been able to stay off the injury list. Unless Murillo continues his strong play, Lade is a solid option at right back. Despite his size, he is always a threat on the wing and has the pace to provide cover on defense.

Derrick Etienne Jr. has made as much out of his appearances as possible. No goals, but plenty of opportunities. Marsch has played him out of position several times, but his impressive pace and a willingness to get into the weeds with opposing defenders have been an asset.