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Bielsa Report: Five things you should know about the Red Bulls

We look at the strengths and weaknesses of New Jersey ahead of the Hudson River Derby edition of the 2022 US Open Cup

MLS: Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls do a lot with what they got.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Bielsa Report is named for manager Marcelo Bielsa, and the comprehensive if legally suspect research he conducts on opposing teams.

1. Lewis Morgan is good, and so is Luquinhas

When New Jersey Red Bulls acquired left-winger Lewis Morgan from Inter Miami in the offseason for $1.2 million in allocation money, it felt like a relatively small transaction: The good-not-great 25-year-old was a solid player on a dysfunctional team, and had been capped twice for Scotland. Now it looks like smart business. Morgan has seven goals on the season, the same as Taty Castellanos, including a 2’ header on Saturday that gutted Toronto FC and put them on the back foot for the rest of the game.

New Jersey’s biggest offseason acquisition was Luquinhas, a pacey 25-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder acquired from Legia Warsaw and signed to a Designated Player contract. He’s coming into his own, and looked sharp over the weekend. While Morgan bombs up the left, Luquinhas tends to roam on the right, distributing the ball and stretching opposing defenses. He has five goals and two assists this year.

2. Red Bulls don’t have much of a striker

The Red Bulls have had trouble at the striker position — with Watford loanee Ashley Fletcher a bust due to persistent injuries, Patryk Klimala (four goals, three assists) and Tom Barlow (two goals) have filled in and function perfectly in the Struberball system. As our pals at Once a Metro put it, “ the central strikers often play inside-out and initiate attacks rather than finish them.” The physical forwards on the field as much to harass the defense and get the ball to the wings as they are to take shots.

3. New Jersey are starting to win at home

The Red Bulls had a comically poor home record at the start of the season, and were winless in their first six games in Harrison. That streak was broken just before the international break with an emphatic 4-1 win over DC United; over the weekend, New Jersey waltzed to a 2-0 victory over a Toronto FC side that gave NYCFC considerable trouble this season.

4. Struberball is all about pressure

Red Bulls players and coaches come and go but the system remains the same: Press, press press. That’s what they’ll do tomorrow:

When it works, they disrupt their opponent and force mistakes. When it doesn’t, they get caught out and can’t recover.

5. The streaky defense is vulnerable

Red Bulls goalkeeper Carlos Coronel might have had a good game over the weekend but he’s a mediocre shot-stopper who is somewhere in the middle of the MLS pack when measured by most advanced stats, and his chemistry with the defensive line can be off. USMNT starter Aaron Long is having a streaky year, with a recent dip in form that was redeemed by a strong performance against Toronto, while center-backs Sean Nealis and Tom Edwards sometimes have trouble playing the ball. When the three defenders wobble the team collapses: The same Nealis-Edwards-Long lineup that shut out Toronto on Saturday conceded three goals at home to Chicago Fire in May.