Eye On Tactics: Red Bulls overwhelm San Jose, but risk long-term sustainability

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by COLEMAN LARNED
Contributing Tactical Analyst

An energetic first half by New York Red Bulls proved overwhelming for San Jose, who were unable to dig themselves out. The high pressing, defensive motors of the Red Bulls’ front six created possessions deep into the Earthquakes’ defensive third, and often forced the opposition into uncomfortable, long passes.

nyrb sj April 17 2015 formation crop

Jesse Marsh chose an unchanged side from their recent trip to D.C., although the manager was hopeful that Zubar and Miller were going to be fit for the match. The consistency of team selection and 4-2-3-1 shape, via preference and injuries, has allowed a new system to seep into the players, which has shown in their balance on both sides of the ball.

Dominic Kinnear selected a pacy side, which saw Innocent Emeghara and Koval get starts. Understanding that Red Bull would possess more of the ball and press high defensively, the manager set out to find their front three targets early, and to offensively gather high up the pitch.

From the early stages, Red Bull pinched San Jose’s space in their middle and defensive thirds. When Bernardez or Goodson possessed for San Jose, Bradley Wright-Phillips would either pressure high to cut off the other centerback in distribution, or allow the centerback on the ball to select a pass, indicating to his team how and where to press. This understanding of the front man created predictable possessions for San Jose and allowed Red Bull to accurately engage.

The first NYRB goal came from McCarty and Felipe’s commitment to press and follow the front four into their offensive third. One of San Jose’s attempts to distribute out of the back was picked up by Felipe, who combined and Kljestan was found free on the far post.

As Red Bull impressed their possession on the game, of which they had 60% in the first half, offensive patterns emerged. Dax McCarty dictated the tempo by dropping the deepest to pick up the ball on the half turn and distribute; while Felipe sometimes entered this role, he was found in a slightly more advanced space, above Dax.

Red Bulls’ second goal in a dominant first half came from Lloyd Sam’s width, allowing Kljestan and one of the holding midfielders to occupy his vacated space. Sam drove down the right, eventually drawing two defenders and found Grella free on the far post, similar to the freedom Kljestan found on the first goal. Although the press was not directly responsible for the goal, the constantly advanced midfielders of New York had to be marked, which drew attention away from the far side, away from the ball.

The second half was choppy and less defined than the first. San Jose started to find a roaming Perez-Garcia, who had the freedom of the middle and offensive thirds to attempt to influence the game whenever possible. The toll of Marsch’s high energy system was evident as the match progressed. As Red Bulls’ shape sagged, smaller spaces opened up for San Jose to possess.

Starting in the 76th minute, changes were made by the Red Bulls to refresh a tasked front four; Zizzo and Richards came on for Sam and Grella, respectively, and slid into like-for-like roles as the industrious Zizzo was narrow, allowing Richards the same width as the departed Sam. Combining San Jose’s urge for a goal and the new personnel, Red Bull started to find Richards’ pace on the right flank, hoping to catch San Jose out.

An underrated Red Bull back four never looked in danger of conceding, even as San Jose started to open spaces in a previously tight and organized midfield. Perrinelle and Miazga were forced to play longer passes as the triangle of McCarty, Felipe and Kljestan tired, which created for a slight edge in possession (53%) by San Jose in the final 35 minutes.

The game was defined by Red Bulls’ first half pressing and ability to recover balls in their middle and offensive thirds. McCarty’s willingness to throw himself about vertically and horizontally set the tone which his team matched for the majority of the game. San Jose’s keeper, Bingham, denied four should-be goals to keep his team relevant, but they left too much to compensate for in the second half.

Marsch’s system continues to be effective against different team shapes and ideologies, but we’ll see if his players have the stamina to maintain throughout a season.


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  • Gruff and Manly Bob

    “An underrated Red Bull back four never looked in danger of conceding” 2nd time I’ve seen this. Robles had to come up big more than once in the 2nd half. They played extremely well but to say never looked in danger of conceding is flat our wrong.

    • Andrew Bissonette

      Goalkeepers do have to make saves to make a good defense look great. Every defense gives up chances no matter who they are.


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