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The SBI View: Red Bulls struggling to deliver results due to anemic attack, lack of depth

photo by Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports


As the New York Red Bulls got off to their impressive start to the season by using their high-pressing system, one question kept resurfacing: How would the club fare once opposing teams made adjustments?

The answer, at least so far, is not well.

The Red Bulls came out of the gates strongly this year under new head coach Jesse Marsch, going undefeated in their first seven games. But the start of a poor run of form overlapped and quickly replaced that instant success, as New York has won just once in its last nine league matches and failed to taste victory in five straight games.

Those results have dropped the club in the Eastern Conference standings. Instead of being at or near the top like they were during the opening months of the season, the Red Bulls are now outside of the playoff picture, in sixth place with just 17 points from 14 games. It’s a far cry from what many observers and fans expected from New York when they saw the club take the league by storm at the start of the spring.

What exactly has gone wrong for the Red Bulls, however? The team is still relatively healthy, and counting on many of the same players that were contributing in a positive way at the start of the season. What could explain this drop-off?

For starters, the club’s gameplan has been figured out. Opposing teams know now how to work around and beat New York’s high press, and the Red Bulls have not adjusted to those adjustments very well.

Another key contributing factor – which is partly because of the high-pressing tactic no longer being as effective – is that the attack is sputtering. The Red Bulls have scored just four goals in their last five matches, and nine in nine dating back to April 26. Worse yet, the club has yet to score more than two goals in any one game this season.

That New York’s attack is so anemic is due to the inconsistent performances of some of its most vital players.

Main offseason acquisition Sacha Kljestan, who was sent off this past weekend after losing his cool, has not fully lived up to the hype at the tip of the Red Bulls’ midfield. Bradley Wright-Phillips, who won the MLS Golden Boot in 2014 after netting a record-tying 27 goals, has also struggled due to poor finishing and a lack of service. The veteran forward has just five goals in 14 matches, a total that was made to look even worse after he missed not one but two penalty kicks in Saturday’s defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Out wide on the left, Mike Grella has chipped in with a trio of tallies and one assist. Still, it isn’t enough. Right midfielder Lloyd Sam is too often the only Red Bulls attacker making things happening and looking dynamic, and defenses are now beginning to take the craft Englishman out of games by paying more attention to him.

Not even marauding fullbacks Chris Duvall, Kemar Lawrence, and Roy Miller have done enough to lighten the attacking load, as evidenced by their combined total of one assist.

While a rotation of sorts might seem like a good idea for Marsch at this point, New York just does not have enough capable horses on the bench. Dane Richards, Anatole Abang, Sal Zizzo, and Sean Davis are serviceable players, but none are capable of being game-changers. At least, not consistently.

It is that lack of depth that has also played a pivotal role in these struggles. New York’s starting players are a talented bunch, but there is not enough behind them on this roster to  make a difference.

The club will likely need to go into the summer market and make a few additions, with left midfield and a second forward among the top priorities. But a change or at least an adjustment of tactics could also go a long way to helping these Red Bulls get out of this funk and back in the win column.

Until either of those things happen, New York will continue to find it awfully tough to churn out positive results consistently. That would likely result in a deeper dip in the standings, and further erase the promise and optimism that came with the club’s sterling start.


  1. Amazes me how much of a joke this franchise is. Many of us in Metrofanatic saw it coming. We knew that this system could withstand teams once they got into form. As well as this team never had the bench to pull this off. But I giess there must be something in Ali’s 300 page book about this.

    The more Red Bull distances from the MetoHistory the more Metro it gets.

  2. Tired of the same conundrum year after year -no creativity. Felipe is a bust!!! Klejstinks is a bust!!! Dax is a bust!!!! Grella is a bust!!! Miller is a bust!!! Duval is a bust!!! Grella Doesn’t even drag defenders away from plays. I don’t understand what they see in him or why he played in Europe. I feel bad for BWP and Sam. They are great players but without a supporting cast they are now being double teamed and are just running in circles. If this is a rebuilding year let the young kids play!!!

  3. Would have preferred Mix instead of Klestjian and I am not sure that Felipe Martins is much of an upgrade over Alexander,….but hey, Klestjian and Martins are Marsh’s buds,…so it’s all good Dog!

    Tim Ream would be a nice addition to the back line as a DP. He would be a good mentor to Miazga. I suppose that’s fantasy.

    Up front,…they need major help. But who? How about repatriating Aaron Johanson? Fantasy?

    • Ream would be a nice addition, assuming 1) he wants to come back to MLS and 2) ownership will actually spend money. Unfortunately, neither is a given. Mix hasn’t been good either but Sacha and Felipe have been very disappointing. Another striker is also needed. Maybe Abang can do the job but they need someone other than BWP unless he’s going to play every minute of every single game.

  4. This team has a good system but teams have exposed us and figured us out. What they need is a central creative player who can tie all the pieces together. Felipe and Dax do great in defensive midfield and in my opinion, Sacha is a great left option with Sam on the right. BWP becomes obsolete though when there’s no decent service sent to him. without anybody linking up the d-mid to the wings this team will go no where. You need a central player who can draw defenders, distribute the ball or even take shots on goal from the midfield. BWP could also use some help up front a second forward to receive balls, maybe breakdown and draw defenders to leave BWP open. You could use a flashy DP here even Drogba, but that central player should be young, versatile, rugged and he doesn’t even have to be a big name.

  5. The Red Bulls have six players who are all but “guaranteed” starters: Wright-Phillips, Sam, McCarty, Felipe, Klejstan, and Robles. None of these are defenders. A mainstay in the backfield would be more helpful than generic bench help. Grella is already the second striker (not to mention Abang’s strong showings lately), so upgrading the left midfielder solves two supposed problems.

    I think the real issue is that Felipe and Klejstan do not combine with McCarty well enough to create goals from underneath the striker. Unfortunately, there is no chance of replacing them because they were handpicked specifically by the new staff. Another winger to provide service? Someone still has to kick the ball into the goal.

  6. It was apparent even when they were winning that Red Bulls needed at least another goal scorer and/or upgrade on the left wing. The high press has largely worked as a means to control the run of play, but their talent isn’t converting control into goals (missing two penalities in one game does not help). Its also long past time to reconsider Dax. His heart and engine are both admirable, but he doesn’t offer anything going forward (unless you like shots from distance in the 15th row) and his defensive prowess is too often exhibited cleaning up after his own turnovers. I’m not worried about the backline, especially with Miazga back. Its not a coincidence that Red Bulls hit their rough patch during his time away,

  7. Whenever you press an opposing team and mark them tightly, you run the risk of tiring, as the marking and the pressing, high or otherwise, is physically intensive. It could be that the increase of heat (along with countermeasures to the press) could be a contributing factor. Whenever you use a high press, you run the risk of the opposing team stretch the field side to side and although they may not put themselves in good attacking positions, ir does tire a high pressing team. Then later as the press loosens, you attack more often using longer balls the former pressing opponents need to cover.

    I think Jesse March needs to re-evaluate his defensive strategies. He has plenty of attacking options.


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