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The SBI View: Red Bulls’ woes a perfect storm of attacking, defensive failures

Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 New York Red Bulls were a perfect storm. A perfectly-assembled roster, with the perfect coach to lead them, produced a Supporters’ Shield in a season originally projected for disaster.

Now, the Red Bulls are experiencing another perfect storm, one of failure, and for a variety of reasons.

To date, the Red Bulls have claimed just three points from the first seven games and currently sit last in the overall table. One of the league’s best on both sides of the ball last year, the defending Supporters’ Shield champions have netted just five times while conceding 15, both league worsts.

On the attacking end, former MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips has sputtered, to say the least. In 7 games played, Wright-Phillips has fired 25 shots, but just 12 of those have hit the target.

In comparison to his past few seasons, Wright-Phillips is firing 3.57 shots-per-game with 1.7 of them coming on target. In 2015, the first season of the post-Thierry Henry era, the forward fired 3.32 shots-per-game with 1.67  of them testing the goalkeeper. In the former, Wright-Phillips has netted zero goals to this point, while the 2015  season produced three in that same time span.

But what does it mean? Statistically speaking, Wright-Phillips is generating the same amount of opportunities and testing the goalkeeper just as often in years past. But, the forward is sorely lacking in soccer’s ultimate stat: goals.

A veteran of the game, Wright-Phillips has experienced rough patches before, including a five-game scoreless run last season. The forward will come good because, statistically, he has to given the number of chances he continues to create. Head coach Jesse Marsch has every reason to stick with the forward, who has proven time and time again that he can score in this league. That ability doesn’t just go away, no matter how much a player struggles through the first month-and-a-half of the season.

What remains a bigger concern is defending, an area of the game that numbers cannot truly define.

Heading into the 2016 season, the Red Bulls knew they would be losing Matt Miazga, who usurped the oft-injured Ronald Zubar in the lineup to play alongside Damien Perinelle throughout 2015.

Miazga is long gone and earning time with Chelsea, but those who have replaced him have struggled to say the least. Zubar’s injury woes have continued, while Perinelle is sidelined for an extended period of time after suffering a catastrophic injury last season. Newcomer Gideon Baah has been nipped by the injury bug as well, forcing Marsch into pairing Karl Ouimette with everyone from Connor Lade to Kemar Lawrence.

The result? Fifteen conceded goals, or 35 percent of what the team conceded last game in just a fifth of the matches.

The Red Bulls woes are easily diagnosable, but maybe not entirely fixable given the current roster. Getting Wright-Phillips going should be the priority, and one would expect them to do so sooner rather than later.

The team’s midfield unit hasn’t suddenly become bad, and it’s easy to expect them to assert themselves a bit more soon. Have they been figured out by the competition? Possibly, but players like Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty and Felipe are too talented to not be able to adjust as teams begin to crack down more on their high-pressure style. Expect the midfield group to lead the charge going forward with a group that has far too many leaders to fail in this way.

With that said, the Red Bulls’ early season woes has been a case of everything going wrong all at once. Teams are used to certain areas slumping through various points of the season, but to have most of the starting XI playing well below capabilities has been quite a shock.

Given everything seen from the laundry list of MLS veterans who make up the team’s core, that can’t be expected to continue, but if it does for even a few more weeks, the Red Bulls may find themselves well and truly buried before entering the dog days of summer.


  1. 1. No one in MLS is well and truly buried before the summer, ever.

    2. I’m not concerned about the attack. The Red Bulls have bossed some of these games and created a bunch of chances. The finishing is unacceptable right now but it’s hard to believe it won’t get better. The front six is stacked with proven MLS performers.

    3. The defense was a huge issue coming into the season and the failure to shore up the CB position is on Ali Curtis. Everyone knew that with Miazga gone, with Perrinelle injured to start the season, and with Zubar being injury prone and not good enough when healthy (and with Ouimette being a serviceable 4th CB but not someone good enough to rely on to start regularly), that another upgrade at CB was needed, even if Baah came good. You really can’t skate by with makeshift backlines when you play a high press, where quick responses to balls that beat the press are vital. You need a fast acting, cohesive backline behind the press. Unless one of the academy kids steps up immediately, the team simply doesn’t have the personnel to fix the CB issue. Marsch needs to dial back the press a bit – at least drop the front six 5-10 yards when defending – until the summer, and then they absolutely have to get a CB upgrade in there.

  2. Losing the two centerbacks and having the first sub missing due to injuries would severely damage the defense of any team. The Red Bull are no different. If they can field the same healthy duo for 4 or 5 games, their defensive woes should be less obvious. The great question is who those reliable CBs might be.

  3. In most of the games the Red Bulls have been the team bossing play. By not scoring they have continued to press and push more numbers forward which leaves them more exposed to the counter. Add in the injuries and makeshift defense and you now know why they are not picking up points. I believe they will turn the ship around. One win will elevate their confidence and they will be a playoff team.

    • I like your optimism. But I’d feel better if I had any indication that the team had some plans to improve that “makeshift defense.” I don’t see RBNY making any big strides with Ouimette (or Duvall, or Lawrence) seeing significant time at CB.

  4. I think it shows the difficulty of having continued success in soccer. One good season is hard. Repeating is much harder. I think it shows some of the folly of getting rid of Mike Petke for Jesse Marsh who is still a largely untested coach.

      • Mike Petke was even more “untested” when he took over RBNY. This team was a whole lot more fun to watch last season than it was ever was under Petke. The failure to shore up the backline after selling Miazga and knowing that Perrinelle was going to miss a lot of this season is not on Curtis, not Marsch. Playing your 4th choice CB from last season alongside a fullback as your central defensive pairing usually won’t end well.

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