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Why New York Red Bulls coach Chris Armas didn’t start Kaku vs. NYCFC

After serving a suspension against Atlanta United, the playmaker was on the bench to start the pivotal Hudson River Derby showdown Sunday.

Mar 5, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls midfielder Alejandro Romero Gamarra (10) reacts after a call from referee Said Martinez during the first half at Red Bull Arena. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

It was a pregame curiosity that got lost in the madness of Danny Royer’s controversial winning goal for the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over New York City FC.

The question: Why didn’t Kaku start?

Red Bulls coach Chris Armas has lauded the Paraguayan playmaker for having that something special no one else on the team has, yet he was on the bench for the start of one of the club’s biggest game.

Marc Rzatkowski, who started when Kaku was suspended for a 3-3 draw in Atlanta the previous Sunday, again got the nod for the Hudson River Derby.

“In the Atlanta game, we thought pressing would be really important, second balls would be really important, positional discipline would be really important,” Armas said after training Monday. “Marc Rzatkowski, in that position, met the demands of that game really well and collectively we felt positive about the team performance.”

Armas said he saw NYCFC as a team with a similar playing style as Atlanta, one that values possession with a vertical element. 

It was more what Marc brought to the table in the last game and we rode the momentum,” Armas said, adding he thought Rzatkowski did a nice job managing NYCFC’s Alex Ring and Keaton Parks in the midfield the same way he did with Atlanta’s Darlington Nagbe and Eric Remedi.

Kaku came on in the 80th minute for Royer, but the initial plan was to bring him on even earlier, Armas said. Royer’s second goal of the game in the 60th minute changed that idea.

Armas didn’t say whether Kaku would be back in the starting XI Wednesday night when the Red Bulls meet Toronto FC at BMO Field, a team that also values possession and builds out of the back. Armas did compare Kaku to Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC’s big early-season signing, and stress how important he is to the Red Bulls.

“Like Pozuelo is for Toronto, he’s that for us,” Armas said. “He’s the one guy in the tightest of spaces who can see things the earliest and just has the natural ease of a real playmaker.

“He finds the game, he’s the guy that can calm things down and was part of a few big transition moments that almost came off. He’s a big piece around here. He’s so important.”




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