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Consecutive defeats inspire New York Red Bulls’ tactical evolution

Mar 30, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof (4) kicks the ball away from New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) during the second half at SeatGeek Stadium. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

HANOVER, N.J. — The book is out on how to play against the New York Red Bulls.

Orlando City SC and the Chicago Fire played long out of the back to avoid the Red Bulls’ press and put pressure on New York’s backline.

The result is back-to-back defeats for the first time since three consecutive losses in May, 2017.

There is no panic in the Red Bulls camp, no need for any closed-door meetings. The Red Bulls recognize the common denominator in the defeats and there is a confidence they will make the necessary adjustments.

“This is something that we need to go through in order to improve as a team,” midfielder Sean Davis told Pro Soccer USA. “I think we’re working really hard in training to find different ways to balance out our play, different ways to be dangerous in the final third, and different ways to put out fires when teams are just dumping it behind our back line.

“This is going to be another phase of our evolution as a team. It’s going to be really important for us to look at film, be honest with ourselves and improve.”

While the Red Bulls ideally want to press and counterpress high up the field, causing turnovers  in the attacking third, teams are defending in low blocks and inviting New York to keep the ball.

“We work on that all the time because there’s two parts of the game — you either have the ball or you don’t. So if teams are going to just give us the ball, we’ll have to understand what that means,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “We don’t want to get lulled into just passing the ball around. We have to be true to who we are, which we know we like to play fast, we like to play forward, we like to run so if teams aren’t going to let us do that by sitting deeper and controlling spaces that way we have to make it happen.”

Armas doesn’t subscribe to the theory that the team’s struggles are directly related to Tyler Adams’ transfer to RB Leipzig. He’s comfortable and confident in Davis, Marc Rzatkowski, Cristian Casseres and Vincent Bezecourt to fill that void effectively.

“What’s gone on in these few games is that teams have made us uncomfortable,” Armas said. “It’s OK because they’re trying to disrupt what we do, so we just have to be a better at what we do and how we deal with that. We’ll grow from it. It will just add to how we’ll have to defend game to game and moment to moment in games.

“People can talk about that because it’s real. We lost a good player. This is part of it, but we do like what we have though.”

One thing that isn’t ailing the Red Bulls is their collective mentality. That, they say, has been good and continued to be so when the team trained Tuesday for the first time since Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Fire in Bridgeview.

“We had ‘tournament day’ today, which proves if you’ve got mentality on the day or not,” midfielder Danny Royer said. “And we’ll stand up and fight back on the weekend and we’re sure we’re going to do better than the last few games and we’re going to go for the three points for sure.”

Added Davis: “Tournament day is the best for us because we get to be competitive. We get to bring an intensity that’s very similar to game day. And guys get to really compete and that’s the best part about our sport and guys leave pissed off, but that means that training was good.”

The early adversity and the challenge that comes with it, Armas said, will make the Red Bulls a better team.

“We like the challenge because it’s another type of tactic we have to learn to deal with,” Armas said. “It’s going to make us better. Having these challenges early on the year, I think we’re going to see a lot more of that, so we’ll have to get better at that and then ultimately keep getting better at who we are.”




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