Eye on Tactics: Red Bulls exploit right flank and prove dynamic against poor NYCFC stars


Lead Analyst

In a carnival day of theater and firsts in the New York soccer world, the Red Bulls and coach Jesse Marsch were able to identify deficiencies in the opposing personnel, take advantage early and adapt to difficult circumstances.

nyrb nyfc May 10 2015 formation 1

1st half formations/player tendencies

Marsch has been steadfast in his lineup selection throughout the season and no structural patterns changed in this match. With news that Sal Zizzo will be out 2-3 months with a leg fracture, Grella slid into a familiar position at left midfield.

On the other end, Jason Kreis has been unable to find a blend of players and team-shape to his liking and he shifted both from NYCFC’s last outing. Kreis deployed an original shape of 4-4-2, but as the game progressed, it turned into more of a 4-1-3-2 and 4-1-4-1, with Villa being asked to track back into the midfield — but also push forward to support Shelton in the final third.

A moment of immaturity by Red Bulls’ 21-year old defender Matt Miazga helped define the game, of which would end up being in 3 distinct parts: pre-red card, post-red card and post-NYCFC substitutions.

Pre-Red Card. A Red Bulls goal in the 4th minute had all of the elements of a team ethic and playing style that Jesse Marsch is trying to impress upon his club. Felipe’s high press allowed him to nip in front of an NYCFC midfielder to then release Kljestan, who had space to drive and distribution options. As was the intention for most of the pre-red card time period, Sam was found isolated against Allen 1v1 on the right flank and was able to find BWP without a defender within three yards of him inside the six-yard box to finish.

The high press from the base of the midfield triangle allowed for Kljestan to have the space to choose freely, for Sam to be isolated 1v1 on the flank and for rash, split second decisions to be made by the retracting defenders and midfielders of NYFC, who incorrectly distributed marking assignments.

Within the first 35 minutes, with 22 players on the pitch, New York Red Bulls targeted RJ Allen as a weakness in NYCFC’s defensive line and attacked him with great intention. Sam stayed wide on the right flank and Kljestan would drift into the space in between Allen and Jacobson to create a link in possession on the same side and to occupy space in front of Allen – to make him constantly make marking and spacial choices.

Once the Red Bulls possessed the ball, Sam was looked for as an offensive outlet to relieve the pressure of an early, frenetic pace and to drive at Allen, who was defensively out of his depth all game. Red Bulls constructed 47% of their attacks down the right flank throughout the match.

In a rare completed vertical pass by NYCFC, Miazga was drawn out of his defensive line in the 35th minute and missed an eager tackle. He was forced to trail Shelton in possession and clumsily brought him down, giving the referee no choice but to show him his second yellow.  Grella was then sacrificed as the extra midfielder as Marsch elected to bring on Ouimette to positionally replace Miazga, forcing Kljestan to positionally replace Grella.

nyrb nyfc May 10 2015 formation 2

2nd half formations/player tendencies

Post-Red Card. Coming out of halftime, no personnel changes were made from the end of the first half, but NYCFC advanced and switched various midfielders to take advantage of their extra man and the space provided. Jason Kreis permanently advanced Villa beside Shelton and plotted a diamond shape behind the front two – Jacobson remained at the base, Grabavoy and Diskerud paired in the middle of the diamond and Alvarez narrowed to play at the tip. As Red Bulls contracted into their defensive shape, NYCFC gained control of the possession, which was expected, but struggled with vertical connection.

Although NYCFC had most of the ball post-red card, there were three contributing factors to why they were ineffective with it.

  1. 1) The intended culmination of this possession was in the hands of the two eventual forwards, Shelton and Villa, and their ball retention was horrid – of NYCFC’s 27 ‘losses of possession’ Villa and Shelton accounted for 11.
  2. Alvarez was unable to encompass any one of the attributes of an effective #10: find pockets of space above the opposing back four to drive with the ball or distribute, pose a goal threat, be the creative hub in your team’s offensive third.
  3. Mix Diskerud has been in the top three of the MLS’ ‘passes attempted’ statistical category, averaging around 60 passes a game – he attempted 22 passes all match. The onus lies on Diserkud’s shoulders to command the midfield, connect the thirds of offensive operation and to be a creative force in the opponent’s half; he fulfilled none of these expectations.

Due to the man disadvantage, the Red Bulls had to change their structure and their motives of creating offense without pressing high in the offensive third. The second Red Bulls goal signified their ability to adapt and be successful in their flexibility. A strong challenge by Lawrence, a repeated gesture all match by the right back who was contender for man of the match, sprung Sam as their outlet on the break on the right flank, Kljestan was found on the opposite side with space who squared the ball across the box to a wide open Wright-Phillips.

Wingert’s inability to recognize the fast-break, turn and follow Wright-Phillips into the box was the most obvious example of a few actions within the same sequence which highlighted the gap of quality between NYCFC and Red Bulls personnel, across the team sheet with few exceptions.

Post-NYCFC subsitutions. Mix Diskerud and David Villa were taken off within four minutes of each other (Diskerud in the ’64th for Poku and Villa in the ’68th for Mullins) and both of their replacements made immediate, tangible impacts in the game. Mullins’ first involvement directly led to a full scoring chance by holding up the ball at the point of attack, and allowing the NYCFC midfielders to run beyond their forward threshold. Poku immediately established a physical presence in the midfield, which led to NYCFC winning their first emphatic challenge of the match in ’71.

Both Poku and Mullins were at either end of NYCFC’s only goal in the ’76th. Poku retained the ball in the midfield amongst two Red Bulls defenders, distributed to Allen on the left flank who was able to find Mullins across the face of goal.

The substitutes gave their team qualities that they were missing throughout the entire game, but the dilemma was not a tactical one (Kreis admitted after the match that he thought, “Mix was just not great tonight,” and “he was in-and-around things not making plays either in the attacking half or the defensive half.”) but an issue with the star player dynamic in New York City.

Within the last 15 minutes of the match, RJ Allen was now getting beyond Grabavoy down the left flank consistently and his crosses posed a threat. Tired of chasing a man down all game, Sam and Wright-Phillips were replaced to introduce energy and solidify defensively, as Jesse Marsch went to a back five to see the match out. NYCFC’s efforts were too late, as the match ended with a fair 2-1 result.


Jesse Marsch and his team deserve credit for the initial dominance and their ability to adapt and effectively execute a fall back plan, at a disadvantage. I fear that even with time to mold an ideal team shape and to emphasize playing ideologies, Jason Kreis, on the other hand, does not have the personnel with sufficient quality at his disposal to consistently win in the MLS.

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