The New York Red Bulls have been up and down in 2016, and unfortunately for head coach Jesse Marsch and co., the team has certainly hit a lull following the international break.
Sunday’s scoreless tie against the Portland Timbers displayed the team’s attacking woes, which have been a concern throughout the season. Against the Timbers, the Red Bulls managed just four shots on target despite holding an overwhelming amount of possession.
“It was fairly even game with chances for both teams,” captain Dax McCarty said. “Clearly we dictated the pace of the game, had most of the ball had a lot of attacking intent like we always do at home. Portland it was clear that their game plan was just to sit back and hit us on the counter attack. They have four very dangerous players, a lot of speed with Melano, Nagbe, Adi, and Mattocks.
“Obviously Mattocks goes out, Grabavoy gives them a little something different, more work rate in the back. So you know, two different ideas from both teams and clearly both teams created chances, and just a frustrating game for us. I mean on a different day you know if we put one of those chances away we walk out of here with a one-zero victory. We were happy with the performance, but you know were not sharp right now in the final third, that has to be said.”
Since returning from their two-week layoff, the Red Bulls have gone 2-3-2 in all competitions, scoring just six goals in those seven matches. The Red Bulls still sit in a comfortable position in the Eastern Conference standings, currently in fourth place on 24 points, but the team’s recent slide had created several questions, particularly up front.
While Bradley Wright-Phillips has had his moments of brilliance this season, tallying a team-leading nine goals thus far, the Red Bulls attack has struggled to pick up the slack when their top goalscorer isn’t firing.
The recent exit of midfielder Lloyd Sam has also created uncertainty on the wing, after the 31-year-old manned a wide position for the team over the past three-plus seasons.
Designated Player Gonzalo Veron has been tabbed as one of the likely replacements for Sam, and was named a starter against the Timbers, but the Argentine winger has yet to prove his worth in MLS. In 22 appearances dating back to his 2015 arrival, Veron has notched just two goals for the Red Bulls, a number that’s far too low for a player that carries lofty expectations the way the 26-year-old does.
“You know, he was dangerous at moments,” Marsch said of Veron’s play against the Timbers. “So I mean I thought he helped put a play together in the second half. He had a couple of plays in the first half where he’s now on the move and going at guys and creating some danger. We switched from a three to two to try to give him a little bit more clarity up there as to how to move around.
“That’s just the challenge. Just continuing to fine-tune tactics with him on how to move and I felt that moving from the three to the two helped us a little bit with our press because with our three we weren’t — Ridgewell was able to get his head up and start playing balls forward and playing through us. So but all that being said, overall on the day we have a lot of sort of half chances. We have a lot of chances.”
In past seasons, the Red Bulls have had a cast of players to help support in the attack, but outside of Wright-Phillips and Mike Grella, the current side has failed to find consistent options to step up when goals are needed.
Prior to Sam being traded to D.C. United, the Red Bulls starting attacking core, which consisted of Wright-Phillips, Grella, Sacha Kljestan and Sam, had contributed 18 of the team’s 28 goals this season. The only other two attackers to register a goal in 2016 have been Veron and rookie Alex Muyl, with each player adding one finish.