Struggle like its 2016
The Red Bulls ran roughshod through Major League Soccer a year ago en route to a a record points total and a third Supporters’ Shield title in six years. So it’s easy to forget that the team has had similar, if not worse, struggles in the past to start a season.
Luis Robles isn’t one to forget.
The Red Bulls captain remembers the 2016 season, in which New York lost six of its first seven games before a furious second-half rally.
“We started 1-6, and in a very similar way, all the mistakes that we made or the half chances that we gave up we got punished,” Robles said. “And yet, we’re able to turn that around and fell within three points of Supporters’ Shield.”
This team, Robles believes, is much stronger defensively, which gives him even more reason to be optimistic about a turnaround.
“I’m confident in this group that we can turn it around, but the only way that we’re going to do that is by showing up to work each and every day understanding that there’s no help coming through the door,” Robles said. “It’s going to be on our shoulders and that we have to step up to the plate and bring the right attitude and the mentality to work each and every day so that together we can pull through it.”
A new look
For much of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ time with the Red Bulls, he’s operated as the lone striker. But on Saturday night, he had a partner up top in Mathias Jorgensen, the 18-year-old Danish youth international in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
“When you have Alex [Muyl] and then Danny [Royer] and then Christian [Casseres] and the wide midfielder is tucked in and looking like a 4-3-1-2 or diamond, it sets you up for second balls, it sets you up for putting guys, staggering guys in the pockets, in the gaps, and if you have two strikers then you can challenge the back line,” Armas said. “We didn’t really get that quality and the sharpness that we need, but I thought structurally it was okay.”
For Jorgensen, his first MLS start was bittersweet because of the result, but he said it was great to play alongside Wright-Phillips.
It was a huge performance to get to play with Bradley on the side, I feel like [he’s] a big player and he can teach me something,” he said. “It was just a great experience for me to play alongside as good a striker as Bradley.”
Robles called it “encouraging” that the Red Bulls are trying different things tactically. He just wishes the alterations are happening when his team is leading.
“We shouldn’t be in that situation where we’re down 2-0 in the first place. If we’re going to make tactical changes, I hope we’re making them because we’re winning,” he said. “And if we’re going to play with two strikers, it’s going to take time, because if you look at really the better part of the last four seasons, we played with one strike. If there’s something that we’re going to implement, it will take time.”
Marcus Epps, who was selected in the MLS Waiver Draft after being released by the Philadelphia Union, made his Red Bulls debut as part of a double substitution in the 59th minute. The pacy winger replaced Michael Amir Murillo, while Derrick Etienne came on for Jorgensen as Armas switched to a three-man backline in search of late goals.
Epps, who had a goal and an assist for Red Bulls II in a 3-1 win over Swope Park Rangers on March 9, had one shot in his 31-minute shift and Robles was impressed.
“He was great. He was great,” Robles said. “I think he’s definitely earned himself more minutes and more looks.”