The new year will bring with it at least one new formation for the New York Red Bulls, a familiar one at that.
The Red Bulls are just over two weeks out from the start of the new MLS season, and will use some of that time to continue reintroducing a tactical setup that they tried out before under former head coach Jesse Marsch. The Red Bulls have been working in a 4-2-2-2 look for parts of this preseason, and are planning to further familiarize themselves in it with the training sessions they have left.
“We want to have some flexibility, not only tactically within games to do some different things but different structures and different systems of play,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said on a conference call on Thursday afternoon. “We’ve spent time with the two strikers, two 9s and two guys that can stretch back lines and giving Tom Barlow and Mathias Jorgensen some looks in preseason, so that’s one part of it.
“We’ve committed to the two strikers here just to see how this can look and be able to go to that within games or start games or finish games. In that structure, that’d be interesting.”
Attacking midfielder Alejandro ‘Kaku’ Romero Gamarra will remain a key figure if the new formation is adopted on a more permanent basis, though his responsibilities will change a bit. Kaku, who hinted at Red Bulls’ tactical change in a recent interview with Vavel.com, will not be as central as he was in the 4-2-3-1 system the club has largely played for the past few years.
Rather, the Paraguayan international will be one of two advanced midfielders tasked with defending from wide spots and attacking from the center of the park when the Red Bulls are in possession. His role will still require him to pick out forwards like Jorgensen and Brian White with pinpoint passes that produce clean looks on goal, but he might have to do so from various different parts of the field.
“We know that we’re comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 and in that structure we know Kaku is the 10,” said Armas. “In the 4-2-2-2, we know that having Kaku underneath, lets say interior, with a Danny Royer or a (Florian) Valot or whoever that is — we have lots of options — it still gives Kaku two options when we win the ball.
“That looks like a 4-4-2 when we defend and then Kaku is like a left or right midfielder like he played when he was at Huracan. We know that he can play in that 4-2-2-2 with two strikers, he can play underneath in the 4-2-3-1, and we know that we’re going to play five in the back also in preseason and still as an underneath guy (that) becomes a really interesting position for Kaku.”
While the Red Bulls are working through the kinks of playing in the same 4-2-2-2 formation that did yielded little success in the previous attempts, there is no guarantee that is the look they go with in their season opener against FC Cincinnati on March 1.
The Red Bulls are currently just trying to add more tactical wrinkles to their arsenal. They want to have more options that they can turn to this season, and the 4-2-2-2 is just one of them.
“Whichever formation we play, usually we talk about minimal width,” said Armas. “We don’t play with lots of lots of width, so (Kaku’s) position is usually going to be interior no matter what we do because we think that he is one the smartest, intelligent guys on the ball that can play in those tight spaces.”