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Scouting Report: Time to clip the Red Bulls wings

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MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

What You’ll Watch

After a thrilling come from behind win against D.C. United, the Seattle Sounders hit the road and fly across the country to take on the New York Red Bulls for a mid-week clash. This is the one and only regular season meeting between the two clubs.

The Red Bulls currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 7-4-2 (23 points in 13 games played; 1.77 ppg) while the Sounders are currently in eighth place of the Western Conference with a record of 3-7-2 (11 points in 12 games played; 0.92 ppg). The Red Bulls drew 1-1 on the road against the Columbus Crew and the Sounders secured their first win, and goals, in a month with their 2-1 win over United.

This will be the 13th all-time meeting between the two clubs. The Sounders lead the series 5-4-3 with 18 goals scored and 16 conceded. They are just 1-3-2 at Red Bull Arena, having scored just five goal and conceding ten in their six previous trips to New Jersey.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: W-W-T-L-T with 7 goals scored and 5 conceded

Leading Goal Scorer: Bradley Wright-Phillips, nine goals (six at home)

Assist Leader: Kaku, nine assists (three at home)

MLS: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls
Bradley Wright-Phillips might score all the goals but this is the man you have to be wary of, Kaku. He has nine assists already this season.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty

New York

Out: Kyle Duncan (torn ACL)

Questionable: Vincent Bezecourt (knee)

Suspensions: N/A

International Duty: Michael Murillo (Panama), Fidel Escobar (Panama), Kaku (Paraguay)

Seattle

Out: Jordan Morris (torn ACL), Kelvin Leerdam (right hamstring strain), Lamar Neagle (left groin strain), Handwalla Bwana (right midfoot sprain)

Questionable: N/A

Suspensions: N/A

International Duty: Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Roman Torres (Panama)

Match Officials

REFEREE: Allen Chapman

AR1: Corey Parker

AR2: Andrew Bigelow

4th: Chris Penso

VAR: Jorge Gonzalez

What to Watch

New York Red Bulls’ System

Head coach Jesse Marsch is a smart soccer man who spends very little time worrying about the numbers in a formation. Yes, there is broadly a defensive, midfield, and forward line, but the way he aims to make those move and morph doesn’t always match up to a specific formation. For instance, last year he ran out something best described as a 4-2-2-2, but even that’s trying to fit a rectangle in a hexagonal hole.

This year, however, he’s conceded to predominantly using a traditional 4-2-3-1 layout. This formation has put Kaku as a central figure, all other players orbiting around his traditional playmaking 10 role, and has paid wonderful dividends for them. They currently sit just three goals off the league lead for total scored this season (28), but this hides a massive over-performance against their expected goals number (21.8), the second largest differential in the league by a very wide margin. Wright-Phillips, in particular, has produced far more than expected, and this, too, is ostensibly largely attributable to Kaku and his nine assists (including four secondary assists).

So what happens to their play without Kaku? Well, what’s hidden in this is the vital importance Sean Davis has had to their performances. He actually leads the team with 20 key passes, is only barely second on the team with a pass completion percentage of 77% while also having attempted almost 100 passes more than the next nearest on the team (585 vs 498 for Aaron Long). They’re just generally not a team that highly values possession, though they do sit right around 50% on the season, solidly in the middle of the league. No regular or semi-regular player has completed more than 80% of their passes on the season. He isn’t going to produce the goals and assists that Kaku does, but he’s vitally important to whether they’ll be competitive without him.

The general offensive focii of speed in the transition game and speed of play towards goal haven’t changed. In the limited examples of their play without Kaku those have both suffered in the final third this year. It’s possible we’ll see a more pragmatic approach and a redux of the advanced defensive mid that was used to great effect last year against Toronto. Such a setup would in theory allow the Red Bulls to apply something resembling a high press and reduce the distance needed to be covered in transition. This would fit .

In defense Red Bull finds itself among the top teams in goals against (tied for 2nd at just 15 conceded). Adams and Davis have formed a strong partnership in front of two excellent centerbacks in Aaron Long and Tim Parker (the latter just returned from US national team duty). The outside backs are highly active, contributing strong performances on both sides of the ball. One of the primary outside backs, Michael Murillo, is away on World Cup duty; there isn’t an exact replacement for him, and that may lead to a 5/3 backline setup.

Given Marsch’s tendency to try surprising things, and his willingness to adjust on the fly during matches, it’s tough to say with much certainty what he’ll do. What is certain is he’ll have a plan focused on going hard after Seattle’s weaknesses, and the Sounders will need to be ready to support each other to mitigate it.

Quick Keys

  • Build on Saturday’s positives - certainly a few more days for the team to integrate a bit more would have been nice, but there were enough positives over the weekend that the team should feel confident in its chances at getting a result.
  • Take advantage of lineup uncertainty - there will be a lot of turnover and potentially some out-of-position players for NYRB. The Sounders need to go at these things hard and test their resolve.
  • Don’t let Wright-Phillips free - he’s their biggest threat, and one of the best goal scorers in the league over the last few years.

How to Watch

Date/Time: June 13 @ 5:00 PM

Location: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ

TV: JOEtv

Streaming: YouTube TV

Radio: 950 KJR AM (English), El Rey 1360AM (Spanish)