Red Bulls Ride Early Lead, Defensive Depth To Open Cup Victory

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by RUSS McKENZIE

New York went into Rochester knowing that it would be a dogfight. The Red Bulls expected the Rhinos to bunker and wait for their opportunity to strike on the counter.

“I’ll give credit to Rochester because they made us earn it,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said after Wednesdays match. “They didn’t give much away. We didn’t have too many chances. They competed hard. They battled and we’re lucky to get out of here with the win.”

A little luck was all that New York needed to win, as they jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Sacha Kljestan penalty.

However, it was a combination of defensive depth, organization, and an early lead that allowed the Red Bulls to secure a trip to the US Open Cup round of 16. The 1-0 victory is the fourth clean sheet win in a row across all competitions.

The Red Bulls started yet another iteration of their backline. This time it was Sal Zizzo, Aurelien Collin, Gideon Baah, and rookie Justin Bilyeu getting the nod to anchor the Red Bulls press and defend the proverbial keep.  A defensively-savvy of Collin, along with the organizational skills of keeper Luis Robles drove the defense.

“Aurelien has been a big presence for us. We’ve been hard to score on. We’ve been very organized,” Marsch said. “There’s a lot of moments where Aurelien and the other defenders are now clear with their roles and committing to being defenders first. That part has been really good to see. Luis (Robles) has been doing a good job of really organizing things.”

“The boys are playing great eight in front of me,” Robles said. “They’re limiting the chances. I don’t think I had (to make) a save today. When we look at the other games, there haven’t been that many chances. As long as we defensively continue to create this cohesive unit, we’re going to be very tough to beat.”

To hear Marsch tell it, the keystone in the bridge to the Red Bulls current win streak has been grabbing an early lead.

“Now that we’ve really gotten ourselves going, leads help us,” he said. “Leads help the way we play, they make teams have to come out a little bit more against us, which opens up things for us to continue to attack. The more we can find early leads the better results we’re going to get.”

As the Red Bulls continue to face competition on multiple fronts, defensive depth will be key in team success. Having players like Bilyeu, who earned his first start with the Red Bulls at the left fullback position, will allow Marsch to rotate his roster to show off New York’s vaunted depth.

“(Bilyeu) understands the tactics. We know he’s a very good passer and gifted on the ball. He had a bit of an edge tonight. It wasn’t easy, especially in the first half when he had to deal with their crafty little winger. All in all a big positive for him,” Marsch said. “With Kemar (Lawrence) out for a while, we’re going to have to call on him. It was good to see him get some really good minutes.

“We’ve had an interesting year with our back four. It feels like we haven’t gotten in too much of a rhythm because we’ve had to call on so many different guys,” Marsch continued. “We try to create clarity in the roles and in the system so that when guys step in they know how to commit to things. We do have a deep back line. This (win) adds another game to our plate, so we’re going to need to call in a lot of guys. We’re going to need everyone ready to go.”