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Tactics Revisited: How Red Bulls Humiliated NYCFC, and How To Prevent Another Embarassment

The Jersey Boys took round one. Can Torrent and NYCFC fight back?

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-New York City FC vs New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t you just love Derby Day?

After the waiting in the the glacially slow lines at Red Bull Arena, you finally get to your seat and are ready for Hudson River Derby XII. Or, you’re settled into your favorite spot on the couch with your phone in one hand and preferred snack in the other, waiting with child-on-Christmas Eve levels of anticipation.

The excitement and passion in the air is palpable. The normal red hue of geographically confused fans was matched equally by a vocal group of sky blue clad NYCFC supporters.

Finally, the first ball is kicked. Let’s do this!

As you clip off to get some food for the next 90 minutes, you’re left taking solace in the fact that the first few minutes of the game would be a slow, repetitive pass-fest, as each side tries to feel the other out like the first round of a heavyweight fight.

Imagine the shock upon returning with beer in hand to find out that the game had been decided in the interim.

New York City FC’s latest regular season row with New York Red Bulls ended just as quickly as it began, with two goals in the first four minutes preceding what would become a 4-0 drubbing. Red Bulls star DP Kaku opened the scoring in the 2nd minute and provided an assist to Florian Valot in the 4th to put the game out of reach with 86 minutes left. Red Bulls were known as a high-pressing team, and that high press baffled and embarrassed Patrick Vieira and the possession dominant, play-from-the-back NYCFC.

After a heartbreaking 3-2 loss in Chicago, optimism isn’t exactly swirling around the Boys in Blue this week. Domenec Torrent has maintained many of the managerial traits Vieira once possessed. While his formations, tactics, and offensive creativity remain, their volatile nature and wild inconsistency are also clinging onto the proverbial hull. As of yesterday, the Red Bulls themselves are also experiencing some managerial turbulence. Head Coach Jesse Marsch has agreed to join the upstart Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga, leaving the once smooth-sailing NYRB ship rudderless.

There is a way to beat Red Bulls. Not an easy way, but a way nonetheless. Here’s is how NYCFC can win Hudson River Derby XIII.


Though the Red Bulls may have started in a 4-2-3-1, their formation was very fluid. Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo were basically playing as wide midfielders with how far they were up the pitch. Tyler Adams played more of a no. 6 role as a box-to-box defensive midfielder. The young American starlet put on a masterclass, bullying NYCFC into submission. Since the Red Bulls don’t like to play the ball through the middle, Kaku was allowed to stray from his central position into areas where he could create more. Bradley Wright-Phillips was stationed high up top in goal-poaching mode. Red Bulls finally settled on a formation, and will likely use this same XI on Sunday with Murillo back from playing with Panama at the World Cup.

NYCFC were basically at full strength last time, save for the absence of the now un-droppable Ismael Tajorui-Shradi. Jo Inge Berget has been on fire lately, but was in the midst of an impossibly cold slump going into the first derby. Maxime Chanot and Yangel Herrera will likely both not be featured in this week’s derby either by way of a gruesome injury (Herrera) or the rise of Sebastian Ibeagha (Chanot). Torrent has waffled between a 3 or 4-man backline, but the 4-man defense suits this squad better. Lets hope he figures it out in time for matchday.


MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports


No major injures were sustained. The team bus did arrive on time.


Sean Johnson’s new keeper kit looked nice?

Outside of a few brief spurts from individual players long after the idea of taking points from this game became an afterthought, the first meeting this season was 90 minutes of nauseating tedium and unpleasantness shoved down the throats of NYCFC fans.

After Vieira finally got the bright idea to stop playing so far out of the back after going down 3-0, the NYCFC attack at least had somewhat of a spark. Jesus Medina had a couple nice runs down the side and got a couple of good looks. However, he relapsed into his habit of trying to do too much and show off, which quelled a many of promising possessions. The midfield looked alright, as Alex Ring was good when called into action. Yangel Herrera played one of his better games of the season making an impact offensively and defensively. But three OK performances isn’t enough to take points in a derby.


MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While I could write about what went wrong in that last match for about as long an average-sized Ph.d dissertation on biomechanical engineering, most issues stem from one larger, overarching issue.

The Red Bulls wanted it more.

The Jersey Boys were practically bouncing off the ad video boards with unbridled energy, salivating at the chance to stick it to their hated rivals. NYCFC treated it the same way one would treat a road matchup in Minnesota or San Jose. Out-working and out-pacing NYCFC was the root of most of the problems.

I must qualify this next statement. Maxime Chanot is a quality center back in MLS. Ben Sweat had been a revelation this season. Alex Callens is a durable and solid as they come. Anton Tinnerholm has been the best pure defender NYCFC have had maybe ever. He’s been everything they’ve hoped for in a big summer signing.

They were unspeakably bad against Red Bulls. Most possessions early for NYCFC ended one of two ways.

  1. Both center backs would be scanning the field to an insanely frantic degree looking for an outlet pass only to be stripped of possession and watch Sean Johnson get beat for another goal.
  2. Sweat or Tinnerholm would be the first recipient of a pass, but would get dispossessed by Kemar Lawrence or Murillo far up the pitch. The Red Bulls’ high-press gave them numbers and the counter-attack was on.

NYCFC were very passive offensively in this one, settling for long range shots rather than making more incisive passes. It almost looked as if they were trying to get on MLS Goal of the Week with fantastic individual efforts (see Medina, Jesus) rather than getting looks in the box. The Bulls, again, deserve worlds of credit. Their work rate and speed allowed them to get numbers behind the ball and crowd the 18-yard box with red shirts, preventing any kind of offensive flow.

Tyler Adams is an amazing talent, and he absolutely destroyed Maxi Moralez. The diminutive Argentinian is capable of some terrific plays, but struggles when pressured physically early and often. Hounding him for 90 minutes like Adams did prevented NYCFC from ever getting out of first gear.

Sitting back and trying to play “beautiful soccer” won’t get you anywhere against NYRB. You have to match them blow for blow, sprint for sprint, and shot for shot. The Red Bulls have figured out that if you start out playing fast, physical, driven soccer, you can punch NYCFC in the mouth and then just watch them stagger around on the verge of collapse for the rest of the game.

The book is out on NYCFC. Now we have to see if Torrent can write a better ending this time around.