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3 New York Red Bulls Questions with SB Nation's Once a Metro

Austin Fido stops by to discuss Saturday's Hudson River Derby. It's on, fam.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SBNation Soccer world to get thoughts on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy.

New York City FC and New York Red Bulls meet this Saturday for their fourth ever Hudson River Derby. Last season, Derbies were a disaster for NYC FC, losing three times in three matches to its neighbors from across the river. Coming in on a streak of five unbeaten, NYC has it's sights set on claiming its first Derby victory and painting New York City Blue.

This week, Austin Fido from the bad guys (Once a Metro) answers our Red Bulls questions. Austin let's us know what's up with the shaky RBNY defense, what kind of formation the club is playing, and who has to show up Saturday if RBNY is going to win.

Q.) New York Red Bulls' defensive futility has been easy to observe and well documented on Once a Metro. The article Joshua Hargett wrote about the revolving door at CB articulates all of the excuses issues well, but I wanted to press a little more on what the future holds. Where is the top of the hill for RBNY? Or, better put, what has to happen for the team to make a turnaround and begin to defend more like their 2015 iteration? Is it possible to get back to the 2015 form without some of last season’s key players, like Matt Miazga? Wednesday, Red Bull saw through a 1-0 clean sheet win and I’m wondering if you think that the team might be turning a corner, or if it’s just a one-off performance.

Austin: We've already defended much like our 2015 iteration - you can spot the games in which that has happened by the fact they are the handful we haven't lost. So I'd say it is certainly possible for us to get back to 2015 form. The problem has been we don't seem all that interested in playing the way we did in 2015. Heading out of preseason, our watchword was "sophistication." In principle, this meant the 4-2-2-2 would sweep all before it and leave our enemies chasing shadows around the pitch and forlornly fishing the ball out of their own net. In practice, too often it has been RBNY that has been forlorn. Last season, it was a scrappy and fortunate 1-0 win that flicked the switch on our season, so maybe the Chicago game will prove to have the same effect. But I'm not yet convinced we really have a handle on the 4-2-2-2, especially defensively (the way we play it, it asks our fullbacks or centerbacks to be supermen - and they are not); nor am I convinced we are committed to going back to what worked before and using that to get back to winning ways. But we're one win away from being on a winning streak, so I guess we'll see if Chicago was a new dawn or a false one.

Q.) I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot of teams line up in a 4-2-2-2, so I was wondering if you could teach us a little about the formation: How did Jesse Marsch get to it, what are its strengths and weaknesses, and how do the Red Bulls players fit into it? Do certain players excel in the formation while others struggle?

Austin: Back in October, Huan Nguyen turned his attention to formations for his RalfBall series - and he basically predicted RBNY would develop an interest in the 4-2-2-2, because Red Bull soccer as a whole is very interested in the 4-2-2-2. So I'd recommend starting with Huan's piece for a thorough introduction to the 4-2-2-2, Red Bull style.

The shorter answer is it came from Papa Red Bull. More accurately, it came from Roger Schmidt when he was head coach of RB Salzburg, who used it most famously as a stick to beat Ajax with back in the 2013-14 Europa League. It's one of the more successful variations on the tactical principles espoused by Ralf Rangnick. So successful that Schmidt is now coaching Bayer Leverkusen, and half his old Salzburg squad went on to bigger and brighter things than the Austrian Bundesliga can offer. The other half went to Leipzig and got Papa's lieblings promoted this season.

The key strength of the formation is it offers a lot of flexibility, or "sophistication" as RBNY likes to call it. The primary weakness: if it goes wrong, it can be too narrow and predictable; it becomes little more than an invitation for the opponent to sit back and counter relentlessly - which is a lot of what has happened to the Red Bulls this season. It's tough to make the case for any of our players excelling in the formation so far this year, though we're all hoping it will prove to be the catalyst for unleashing Gonzalo Veron's talent on MLS. Right now, it has mostly proved an effective way to mute one of the best wingers in the league (Lloyd Sam, who gets forced into a narrower role in the 4-2-2-2 and has thus far been rendered invisible by it), neutralizing Sacha Kljestan's strength (playing in space - the 4-2-2-2 channels him into traffic for the most part), and wrecking the health of our center backs (maybe that isn't the formation's fault, but it's a proven and successful tactic so it can handle a little excessive criticism).

Q.) NYC FC vs RBNY is quickly becoming one of the best rivalries in MLS, if not already the best. Red Bull had New York’s number last season, so the onus is on NYC FC to get itself back into the rivalry. To do that, NYC is going to have to neutralize Red Bulls' potent attack and exploit the Red Bulls' inexperience in defense. Which Red Bulls attacking player do you think NYC should be keeping an eye on Saturday? On the flipside, who has to come up big for Red Bull defensively if they hope to keep NYC off the scoresheet?

Austin: If he plays (he will - just a question of whether he starts), watch out for Veron. This is supposed to be the year he demonstrates why he was signed, and he will get every chance to make it so. If he can stay fit, one would hope things come together for him at some stage, and the narrow strip of Yankee Stadium outfield you guys call home might work very well for him. Defensively, whichever pairing wins our starting center back lottery will be key to our success. Well, realistically, we'll rely on Luis Robles to keep the ball out of the net - you'll see your boys in blue get a few chances, I'm sure.

How about a Prediction and a Starting XI?

Prediction: RBNY can't win EVERY game against NYCFC, and your guys are in form and at home. So I'll say 2-2.

Lineup: Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Ronald Zubar, Aurelien Collin, Connor Lade; Dax McCarty, Felipe; Mike Grella, Sacha Kljestan; Gonzalo Veron, BWP.

Rivalry Edition Bonus Question: This is an easy one, because there are so many good options: Say something nice about NYC FC.

Austin: Something nice about NYCFC? I'll say three nice things: 2-1, 3-1, 2-0. We won the league on tiebreakers last year, and we couldn't have done without those three wins, eight goals, and nine points. Thank you, neighbors.

Thanks Austin (I guess) for answering HRB's questions this week! Join us in the comments section to discuss the Derby and throw shade on the Red Bulls, and be sure to check out the "reverse fixture" on Once a Metro, where we answer three queries on NYCFC.