Red Bulls Ride Defense to the Top of the East

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by RUSS McKENZIE

HARRISON, N.J. – While most will look at the Red Bulls’ offensive assault as the driving force to their rise as Eastern Conference leaders, it is defense that has changed their form.

Just a few short weeks ago, it seems that the Red Bulls couldn’t do anything to get themselves into a rhythm — that same rhythm that led them to the 2015 Supporters Shield and back-to-back MLS Eastern Conference Final appearances.

How quickly things change.

“Yeah, obviously very different than the beginning of the year,” Jesse Marsch stated after the match. “Truly feel like we’ve put that behind us now, and we’ve made a great push in the last seven games, getting a lot of good performances. Starting to really feel and look like us. So I think we use the hard times to make us better.

“Obviously very happy with the last couple months.”

With the 3-0 victory, the Red Bulls completed a stretch of three clean sheets in a row, only losing once in their last seven matches. They have shut out opponents for seven straight halves of soccer, last allowing a goal in the first half against DC United.

Tested further, Marsch’s troops played most of the match with 10-men after midfielder Gonzalo Veron earned a red card for an ugly tackle.

Shorthanded but up by three, the Red Bulls turned in a defensive effort that stifled Toronto — especially after Sebastian Giovinco left the match injured.

Marsch credited his defenders with being the foundation on which New York has risen to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

“I think you’d start with Ronald and Aurelien, and talk about the effort that they put in. And Aurelien’s had a major impact on the team not just from a playing perspective, but from a mentality perspective,” Marsch said. “I think he’s really given confidence because he’s so aggressive, and he takes so much pride in his job and making sure that we don’t give up goals. So he’s been fantastic.

“It’s great to see our back line coming together, and this will be important for us moving forward.”

One of the biggest differences the Red Bulls have had this season is a lack of stability on the backline. Matt Miazga, who was sold to Chelsea FC in the offseason, would often extinguish rushes before they became dangerous because of his positioning and recovery runs. That presence has been missing – that is, until Collin joined the club.

Striker Bradley Wright-Phillips sees Collin as a big positive. “He’s a winner. Even when I played against him, he’s tough. There are a lot of games I’ve played in and a lot of defenders are tight and aggressive, and I know he’s doing that. He’s a great addition to our team. We all want to fight to get the three points, and he fits right into that.”

Goalkeeper Luis Robles, who saved a penalty kick in the match, also lauded the addition of Collin, and senses that things are looking up.

“Collin since he’s been here – his presence, his effort, his leadership, all of it – has been massive for us.  I think we’re just excited to see how much better we can get, because I know we’re still a work in progress. We have to have the mentality that we’re always going to keep improving, and if we do that, we can expect more performances like tonight.”