Thursday, April 16, 2009

Scouting Report: New York Red Bulls

This is the first of hopefully many scouting reports of RSL opponents brought to you by writers “in the know”. It’s hard to find any soccer writer out there that is more “in the know” than’s Kyle McCarthy who pens “Monday MLS Breakdown” every Monday, “McCarthy’s Musings” every Wednesday, and the “Friday Forecast” every Friday. As you can tell Kyle has an uncanny ability to get the point across in a concise manner. Many thanks to Kyle for his contribution (especially on the short notice that he was given). Enjoy.

So Randy is trying to spice things up a bit and add a few different voices to the blog to help preview RSL's next game. As one of his (those columns come out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday if you're wondering) colleagues, I thought it was only fitting that I take a quick crack at previewing a Red Bulls team I've seen play in person this year.

New York Red Bulls

Formation: 4-5-1

Style of Play: If the Red Bulls are playing well, they are moving the ball down the flanks at pace with Dane Richards and Khano Smith providing service in the middle for Juan Pablo Angel. That hasn't happened yet this year. Against a team like RSL, the Red Bulls will definitely try to spread out RSL's narrow midfield diamond and make players like Clint Mathis and Will Johnson tread into the wide areas.

Strengths: New York is fast. Really, really fast. Smith, Richards, Mac Kandji (who will likely miss the match through injury) and Matt Mbuta (who hasn't seen much playing time) are all burners. RSL's team speed in the wide areas isn't great, so Jason Kreis and company will have to find a way to slow this match down in those portions of the field. And, of course, Juan Pablo Angel is the best finisher in the league if New York can provide him with consistent service.

Weakness: The defense is marshmallow soft. There might be one starting caliber central defender on the roster and the fullbacks haven't been particularly good this year either (though the suspended Carlos Johnson and the newly acquired Alfredo Pacheco should help that once they get on the field). Part of the defensive problem is the lack of decent holding play in central midfield. The rotating cast of characters in defensive midfield has been overrun consistently; Albert Celades (ex-Spain, Real Madrid) and Seth Stammler are considerable improvements over that batch of players if they are healthy and fit enough to play 90 minutes.

Players to Watch: Angel is an obvious candidate, but he is pretty reliant on service. That makes the contribution of the wide players and the inconsistent Jorge Rojas particularly important. Rojas hasn't settled in the league and may have only returned because he's on a guaranteed deal. Also keep an eye on the returning Jon Conway; he's the best keeper on the roster, but he's lacking match fitness after a long suspension.