HARRISON, N.J. — Inconsistency in form has plagued the New York Red Bulls throughout the 2016 season, but what was seen as a massive question mark before the year began seems to now be the team’s biggest strength.
The exit of Matt Miazga during the winter coupled with Damien Perrinelle’s late season injury suggested big changes were coming for the Red Bulls at the back. Major contributors during the side’s Supporters’ Shield-winning run in 2015, Miazga and Perrinelle’s absences casted a doubt on whether the Red Bulls could replicate their success this year.
That hasn’t been the case though for Jesse Marsch’s side, as the second-year head coach has managed to put together at time patchwork defenses and still gotten quality production out of his group. The trade for Aurelien Collin has provided a veteran presence in the central defense, while players like Ronald Zubar and Chris Duvall have continued to grow into key contributors.
“We like our defensive crew,” Marsch said following Wednesday’s win. “You can tell that by the fact that we rotate them so much. A lot of times it’s out of necessity, unfortunately, but other times it’s out of having fresh legs on the field.
“Tonight we made the decision to go with Chris Duvall. Sal [Zizzo] was perfectly healthy, but we felt like having fresh legs was important. We trust Chris on a big level. We knew taking care of Brek Shea was a big job for the day.”
While the lineups have often changed from week to week, the Red Bulls have not only received high effort from their defensive line but also solid showings, as displayed in the team’s 2-0 win against Orlando City on Wednesday night.
The team has been forced to deal without players like Kemar Lawrence, who has been sidelined following his time with Jamaica at the Copa America Centenario, while, more recently, Gideon Baah suffered a seemingly season-ended leg injury against the Portland Timbers.
The victory ended a rough stretch of results for the Red Bulls, snapping a four-match winless span in MLS play while extending the squad’s home shutout streak to 546 minutes, ironically last conceding to the Lions on April 24.
“We’ve got a shutout string at home,” Marsch said following Wednesday’s win. “That’s pretty good right now. I feel like the more that we are defensively sound at home, and that’s been a little bit of a shift we’ve made this year, I think last year we kind of almost attacked all out trying to find a way to get goals. This year we’ve been a little bit more cautious to protect ourselves from the counter.
“It means we’ve managed to give up fewer goals. We always have faith that the goal will come for us. We have enough quality in the attacking part of the field that if we can get shutouts, we feel like we’ll get wins.”
Connor Lade’s performance against Orlando City furthered the argument of his value to the Red Bulls, not only putting in a strong effort defensively but also notching his first career MLS goal in the first half.
The diminutive outside back has been one of many players on the backline that Marsch has consistently implemented into the starting XI, as the coach has been forced to swap lineups often due to injuries as well as untimely congestion in scheduling.
“Yeah, it’s huge,” Lade said. “We haven’t been happy, you know, on the road. We’ve conceded some bad goals and just happy to turn it around from the start of the year and so we’ve been in a good run at home, keeping some shutouts and we’re just going to have to find a way to take a part of that recipe of success and bring it on the road with us because we know that’s going to lead to our success in the league. We’re just happy with the win tonight and hopefully it’s a jumping off point for us.”