BULLS RUN: MISSION NOT IMPOSSIBLE FOR RED BULLS

It’s not mission impossible, but the Red Bullstask on Sunday in the second leg of MLS’s Eastern Conference Final will certainly be a difficult one.

For the first time this season, New York finds itself with its back to the wall after suffering a 2-0 first-leg defeat at the hands of Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. The Supporters’ Shield-winners were thrown off kilter after Justin Meram’s series-opening goal nine seconds into the match, the fastest goal in MLS playoff history.

“Yeah, [giving up that goal] is tough,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said after the loss. “It was embarrassing defending, schoolyard stuff. The second time we played [the Crew] here in the regular season when they beat us 2-1, they played direct and they played off [Kei] Kamara, and he just flicked it on and they had runners running off it. They do it five, 10 seconds into [Sunday’s] game and for some reason we are surprised, and we don’t defend it properly.”

Despite out-shooting and out-possessing Crew SC throughout the match, the Red Bulls couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the back of the net. Of their 16 shots, two were on goal, as golden chance after golden chance went begging for the final touch. A Kamara goal in the 85th minute put New York in a precarious position heading into the second leg: Score at least two goals without surrendering any or have the season end in front of a sold-out Red Bull Arena.

The Scenario

For the Red Bulls to advance to the MLS Cup on Sunday, Dec. 6, the following must occur:

  • The Red Bulls must win Sunday’s game by three-plus goals or
  • The Red Bulls force extra time by winning the second leg 2-0 after and then win in extra time or penalty kicks.

Sounds daunting, right? It certainly is, until you look at some the underlying factors that may give you hope as a Red Bulls fan.

The Red Bulls Played Better in the First Leg Than You Think

Sometimes, you don’t get correct for the performance in the final scoreline. New York did outshoot Columbus 16-15 and had more of the ball throughout the match (53.4 percent ball possession to the Crew’s 46.6 percent).

The reality is that goals decide games no matter how you play and Crew SC were more clinical in the first leg than the Red Bulls.

“That’s why it’s a little bit frustrating because we had a lot of chances,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said to the media after the match. “Sometimes when you score early like Columbus does, you wind up taking a little bit more of a defensive posture. I thought that a lot of the things we did, on the day, we were able to put the game on our terms. We weren’t dangerous enough.”

Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan both had golden opportunities to equalize with the Red Bulls down a goal. Should they get the same chances in the second leg, the smart money will be on the duo to finish off those opportunities accordingly.

Columbus’ Defense Can Be Breached

You have to give credit to Crew SC’s defense for keeping a clean sheet against Major League Soccer’s best attack, but it still was far from a solid performance. Had the Red Bulls scored a goal before Kamara’s potential backbreaking goal late in the game, this would be a completely different series.

A good thing Marsch’s men can take out of the loss was that they were able to create opportunities. Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter is at heart an attacking coach and, while Columbus is undoubtedly a fabulously attack-minded team, Crew SC is vulnerable at the other end of the pitch. Columbus’ goal differential away from home during the regular season was minus-8, something that Marsch will no doubt point to during training this week.

Red Bull Arena Can Be a Fortress

New York was one of the best teams at home during the regular season (12-3-2) and the Red Bulls will need every bit of that advantage if they want to overturn the deficit. This may be the most important game in Red Bulls history and the South Ward will be at its boisterous best.

The key will be getting an early goal. Should the Red Bulls get a quick goal – like the Crew did in the first leg – the momentum will be with the home side and the pressure will be on Columbus to keep the hosts out in a heated, hostile atmosphere.

“We’re a confident team and we’re confident we’ll come back and make a game out of it,” center back Matt Miazga said Tuesday. “We have the belief that we can dig ourselves out of this hole. We’ve been written off all year and I think this won’t change anything. We just have to do our job and get the result.”

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BULLS RUN: MISSION NOT IMPOSSIBLE FOR RED BULLS

It’s not mission impossible, but the Red Bullstask on Sunday in the second leg of MLS’s Eastern Conference Final will certainly be a difficult one.

For the first time this season, New York finds itself with its back to the wall after suffering a 2-0 first-leg defeat at the hands of Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. The Supporters’ Shield-winners were thrown off kilter after Justin Meram’s series-opening goal nine seconds into the match, the fastest goal in MLS playoff history.

“Yeah, [giving up that goal] is tough,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said after the loss. “It was embarrassing defending, schoolyard stuff. The second time we played [the Crew] here in the regular season when they beat us 2-1, they played direct and they played off [Kei] Kamara, and he just flicked it on and they had runners running off it. They do it five, 10 seconds into [Sunday’s] game and for some reason we are surprised, and we don’t defend it properly.”

Despite out-shooting and out-possessing Crew SC throughout the match, the Red Bulls couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the back of the net. Of their 16 shots, two were on goal, as golden chance after golden chance went begging for the final touch. A Kamara goal in the 85th minute put New York in a precarious position heading into the second leg: Score at least two goals without surrendering any or have the season end in front of a sold-out Red Bull Arena.

The Scenario

For the Red Bulls to advance to the MLS Cup on Sunday, Dec. 6, the following must occur:

  • The Red Bulls must win Sunday’s game by three-plus goals or
  • The Red Bulls force extra time by winning the second leg 2-0 after and then win in extra time or penalty kicks.

Sounds daunting, right? It certainly is, until you look at some the underlying factors that may give you hope as a Red Bulls fan.

The Red Bulls Played Better in the First Leg Than You Think

Sometimes, you don’t get correct for the performance in the final scoreline. New York did outshoot Columbus 16-15 and had more of the ball throughout the match (53.4 percent ball possession to the Crew’s 46.6 percent).

The reality is that goals decide games no matter how you play and Crew SC were more clinical in the first leg than the Red Bulls.

“That’s why it’s a little bit frustrating because we had a lot of chances,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marschsaid to the media after the match. “Sometimes when you score early like Columbus does, you wind up taking a little bit more of a defensive posture. I thought that a lot of the things we did, on the day, we were able to put the game on our terms. We weren’t dangerous enough.”

Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan both had golden opportunities to equalize with the Red Bulls down a goal. Should they get the same chances in the second leg, the smart money will be on the duo to finish off those opportunities accordingly.

Columbus’ Defense Can Be Breached

You have to give credit to Crew SC’s defense for keeping a clean sheet against Major League Soccer’s best attack, but it still was far from a solid performance. Had the Red Bulls scored a goal before Kamara’s potential backbreaking goal late in the game, this would be a completely different series.

A good thing Marsch’s men can take out of the loss was that they were able to create opportunities. Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter is at heart an attacking coach and, while Columbus is undoubtedly a fabulously attack-minded team, Crew SC is vulnerable at the other end of the pitch. Columbus’ goal differential away from home during the regular season was minus-8, something that Marsch will no doubt point to during training this week.

Red Bull Arena Can Be a Fortress

New York was one of the best teams at home during the regular season (12-3-2) and the Red Bulls will need every bit of that advantage if they want to overturn the deficit. This may be the most important game in Red Bulls history and the South Ward will be at its boisterous best.

The key will be getting an early goal. Should the Red Bulls get a quick goal – like the Crew did in the first leg – the momentum will be with the home side and the pressure will be on Columbus to keep the hosts out in a heated, hostile atmosphere.

“We’re a confident team and we’re confident we’ll come back and make a game out of it,” center backMatt Miazga said Tuesday. “We have the belief that we can dig ourselves out of this hole. We’ve been written off all year and I think this won’t change anything. We just have to do our job and get the result.”

 

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The Knicks Fix: The Gift of Porzingis

What we may be learning in this entertaining first month of basketball for the Knicks this season is the Basketball Gods may truly exist.

And they may have finally smiled on this franchise.

Remember Phil Jackson referenced them in February, after a loss to the Cavaliers at The Garden, when he tweeted, “Today’s game vs Cavs gave bb gods heartburn.”

Then, at the end of last season, Derek Fisher dared to grin in the face of outrage after his team won a pair of games down the stretch — Game 80 in Orlando and 81 in Atlanta — that went from meaningless to meaningful. “I’m sure people are upset with us tonight,” said Fisher, who consistently dismissed the idea of tanking.

It was said at the time that even when they win, the Knicks lose.

Why? Well, when the season ended, the Knicks (17-65) were one win better than the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-66), who lost their final 12 games. And in May, the latter team won the NBA Draft Lottery, while the Knicks actually dropped to the fourth overall pick.

On my show on ESPN Radio (Noon-3 p.m. weekdays on 98.7 FM), I called it “major disappointment.” Many believed it to be a devastating result of an already devastating season.

Six months later, however, dare we consider karma? That fourth pick turned into Kristaps Porzingis, who was booed on draft night. A father was caught on camera encouraging his adolescent son to cry as they took a selfie. The Knicks were mocked for passing on the likes of Justise Winslow or Emmanuel Mudiay for the relatively unknown skinny Latvian, who was immediately compared to Frederic Weis.

“My job is to change those boos to claps,” Porzingis vowed among the guffaws.

The laughter quickly died down during the NBA Summer League. After training camp opened, Porzingis had become a bit of a dynamo; an intriguing prospect to watch. By the time the season began, he was a fan-favorite at The Garden.

A week ago, they were chanting his name: POR-ZING-IS! POR-ZING-IS! POR-ZING-IS!

And now, just 14 games in, his nickname from the people on social media is “GODZINGIS.”

Any former NBA player who has seen him play — from Magic Johnson to Charles Barkley to Patrick Ewing — and even current players — from LeBron James to Kobe Bryant to Dirk Nowitzki — immediately recognize the star-quality potential in this kid.

Speaking of Nowitzki, whom Porzingis is routinely compared to, let’s peek at the numbers:

Dirk Nowitzki’s first 14 games (1998-99):
18.9 Mins, 6.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.7 BLK, 0.9 AST, 31.6% FG, 23.5% 3PT

Kristaps Porzingis’ first 14 games:
26.1 Mins, 13.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.5 BLK, 0.8 AST, 42.7% FG, 30.8% 3PT

There is something undeniably special about him. He has rare size, at 7-foot-3, coupled with the body control and athleticism of a small forward and a feathery shooting touch, plus the IQ that puts him in the most important Phil Jackson category there is for players: He’s a “learner.”

Porzingis has adapted quickly to the NBA game, he’s adjusted to the physicality and officiating, while also still methodically building on each performance. He started out showing a few nice moves and decent range. He then proved he can be an effective rebounder, by recording 11 double-doubles in the first 14 games. He spent a week attacking rims with highlight-film put-back dunks. He then had 29 points and 11 rebounds in a win over the Hornets before getting into foul trouble and having a fairly sub-par game (7 points, 6 rebounds in 26 minutes) in Oklahoma City only to bounce back with an epic 24-point, 14-rebound, 7-block performance in Houston.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that Porzingis is the first rookie to put up 24-14-7 in an NBA game since Tim Duncan in 1998. He’s also only the second player in the last 30 years to go 24-14-7 with two three-pointers.

What makes KP really special, however, is his precocious perspective: “It’s easy to do this for one game. The hard part is doing it every night.”

Kristaps Porzingis speaks to the media after the Knicks' 102-94 win over the Hornets at The Garden.

That is usually the part of the Knicks Post Game Show on MSG Network when the camera comes back to us at the desk and Al Trautwig‘s jaw drops to the floor as he reminds us, “He’s 20 years old!

Our studio partner, former NBA All-Star Wally Szczerbiak, insists the kid has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

Charles Smith, the former Knick, predicted to me last week that Porzingis would be a Top-10 player in the NBA within the next three years.

And while all of this is exciting for any Knicks fan to fathom, the part that is loved the most is that he’s home-grown. There is something about the guy you drafted developing into a franchise player. And if you like a little synergy with numbers, here’s a little useless stats for you:

Willis Reed’s rookie season was 1965-66.

Patrick Ewing’s rookie season was 1985-86.

Kristaps Porzingis’ rookie season is 2015-16.

Did you catch it?

So as we now settle in this winter to enjoy the development of Porzingis and debate if he can put together enough of a season to be the Knicks’ first Rookie of the Year since 1987-88 (Mark Jackson), let’s not forget to remember how that skinny Latvian kid wound up here with the Knicks.

It all started in the final days of the worst season in franchise history, when Fisher refused to lose on purpose for the sake of lottery balls.

And the Basketball Gods took it from there.

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Zuccarello The Catalyst to Rangers’ Success

In an MSGNetworks.com exclusive, Steve Valiquette breaks down how Mats Zuccarello has come back from a scary injury to emerge as the most important player on the Rangers.

After witnessing Mats Zuccarello’s start to the 2015-16 season, it is hard not to wonder “what if?” in regards to the Rangers playoff run last season.

After Zuccarello suffered a scary injury in the first round of the playoffs vs. the Penguins, the Rangers weren’t able to produce a positive expected goal differential advantage for the remainder of their Conference Final run. This negative differential placed too much emphasis on Henrik Lundqvist and their lack of scoring caught up to them vs. the Lightning.

Zuccarello is off to a great start and is an integral part of the Rangers top line. His role as a playmaking winger has pushed him, Rick Nash and Derick Brassard into the conversation of the elite lines in the NHL.

We can’t ignore Zuccarello’s unsustainable 25% shooting percentage, a percentage that will regress downwards toward his career shooting percentage of 11.5%, but his value to the Rangers is his playmaking skills.

Zuccarello possesses elite speed and it causes havoc for defenders. When he attacks these defenders, they struggle to maintain proper gap control because they must respect his ability to beat them to the outside. This forces defenders to lengthen their gaps and with this, Zuccarello is able to gain control of the offensive blue line with regularity. This provides him with space to operate offensively because he doesn’t operate in straight lines. He provides width and depth to his attacks.

When he gains the offensive zone, he refuses to settle for low percentage opportunities. Zuccarello continually looks for ways to exploit the slot line and attacks it with regularity.

Zuccarello leads the Rangers in slot line passes with 12 and we can see in the graphic above how he improves their expected goal totals through these plays. Zuccarello, with space, creates a difficult problem-solving scenario for the goaltender. He disguises his shot intentions well, which provides either false information for the goaltender or none at all. When he delivers the pass, it forces the goaltender to react and his information gathering becomes compromised. This provides a greater opportunity to score for the recipient of these feeds.

When we factor in his ability to hold onto the puck and layer defenders in front of the goaltender before his release, we can understand why he is so integral to the Rangers top line production.

If we chart Zuccarello’s on-ice shot attempts and then remove the shots he personally attempts or the ones he directly attributes to through his playmaking ability and forcing pre-shot movement, we see how he is driving play over the first 20 games.

At this point, he is on pace for a career-best 86 points. This is likely not sustainable because it is being paced by an unexpected goal scoring surge. A 40-goal pace for a player who averages around 16 is not sustainable, but Zuccarello’s 45-assist pace is.

With Nash showing signs of breaking out of his early-season slump, Zuccarello’s unexpected early season goal production paired with Oscar Lindberg‘s, has allowed the Rangers to not only weather their superstars personal scoring struggles, but maintain their status among the top teams in the league.

For a guy who was an injury question mark entering the season, Zuccarello has been the offensive catalyst behind the Rangers early season surge.

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BULLS RUN: RED BULLS GEAR UP FOR EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL VS. CREW

rbny_crew_blog_20151118

If the Red Bulls’ series against D.C. United more closely resembled a street fight, their Eastern Conference Final vs. the Columbus Crew will be more like a game of chess.

The East’s two best teams will battle this Sunday for the right to represent the conference, as they look to book their ticket in the MLS Cup Final. After a physical, defense-heavy series against D.C. United, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch expects a completely different contest between New York and Columbus.

“D.C. was more like a heavyweight fight and the [Conference Final] is going to more like a soccer game or football match,” Marsch said Tuesday. “I think that there will be a lot more tactics involved, and the team that is more alert and committed and able to put the game on their terms, will come out victorious.”

Both teams love to attack and it shows in the stats during the regular season. The Red Bulls led MLS with 62 goals scored and the Crew tied for second in the league with 58 goals. Twenty-two of those 58 tallies came from striker Kei Kamara, a tall, powerful striker who will be the target of New York’s defense throughout the series.

“[The Crew] is a dangerous team,” defender Sal Zizzo said. “They like to get their outside backs forward. They’ve had two wingers who had good seasons and Kamara, obviously. They like to put balls in the box and be dangerous that way. They like to shift it from one side to the other. These are all things we have to be aware of and do our best limit.”

Season in Review – Red Bulls vs. Crew

All three games between the Red Bulls and Crew this season finished with the same score — 2-1 – and all of them could have gone either way. Here’s a look back at all three contests.

March 28 in Columbus – Red Bulls 2, Crew 1

After a scoreless first half, the match came alive in the second. Bradley Wright-Phillips would get the Red Bulls on the board with a 47th-minute penalty.  Former Red Bull Tony Tchani would equalize for Columbus in the 58th minute, but New York would come away with three points after Mike Grella’s audacious chipped goal in the 67th minute.

http://www.msgnetworks.com/videos.html?search=032815RBNYvsCLB

July 4 in Columbus – Crew 2, Red Bulls 1

It looked like the Red Bulls would go on to make it two wins in a row early on against the Crew. Anatole Abang opened the scoring with an early goal in the eighth minute, but his strike was canceled out by Ethan Finlay’s goal in the 33rd. The Crew would play in a more direct style in this one, targeting Kamara as the center of their attacks with long balls that tested the Red Bulls’ defense. Kamara and Finlay would combine again in the 74th minute, with Finlay giving the home side the win with a late goal.

http://www.msgnetworks.com/videos.html?search=Redbulls070415&tag=New-York-Red-Bulls

October 3 at Red Bull Arena – Red Bulls 2, Crew 1

At Red Bull Arena, the Crew seized the lead early behind Justin Meram’s ninth-minute goal, but the Red Bulls answered back quickly behind a goal from Lloyd Sam in the 12th minute and a 21st-minute strike from Wright-Phillips. There were close moments, but in the end, New York held on for a hard-fought win.

Steve Cangialosi and Shep Messing break down the action from the Red Bulls' 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew at Red Bull Arena.

http://www.msgnetworks.com/content/msgsite/en/videos.html?search=rbnycrew10315

A Look Ahead – Eastern Conference Final First Leg: Red Bulls at Crew

While the attention will be drawn toward offensive players such as Wright-Phillips and Kamara, the key to the series will be in the midfield and on defense.

Styles make fights and the two teams’ philosophies couldn’t be more different. The Red Bulls want to compress the game into their opponent’s half and constrict space on the field, while the Crew want to make the pitch as big possible, using the width of the field as a way to get the ball to Kamara.

Both sides utilize a 4-2-3-1 formation and the middle three players in both teams could swing the balance of the series. The Red Bulls’ trio of McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and Felipe were the driving force to New York’s Supporters’ Shield-winning season, while the Crew’s combination of Tchani, Will Trapp and Federico Higuain is formidable in its own right.

Defensively is where the Red Bulls have the distinct advantage over the Crew. New York gave up 10 fewer goals this season – 43 goals allowed compared with Columbus’ 53 – and the amount of chances the Crew give up play into the Red Bulls’ counterattacking style.

Nevertheless, Dax McCarty sees another close series.

“We have to make sure that if we want to score goals, we’re sharp in the attacking third,” the Red Bulls’ captain said. “I think we need to play better – much better – than we did in the D.C. series because we know if we don’t punish Columbus when we get chances, they have the capability of punishing us.”

MORE:

Complete Red Bulls Coverage

 

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Nash On The Verge Of Breakout For Rangers?

In an MSGNetworks.com exclusive, Steve Valiquette goes in-depth to break down why Rick Nash has only scored one goal so far this season and how he can turn it around.

One of the incredible things during the early portion of the 2015-16 Rangers season is their ability to win without a significant contribution from Rick Nash.

The Rangers finished October with a 7-2-2 record even though Nash only scored one empty-net goal during the month. It’s a stark contrast from last October when Nash steamrolled through the first month of the season with nine goals, yet the Rangers only had a 5-4 record.

[Editor’s Note: Nash recorded his second goal of the season in a 3-0 win over Carolina on Nov. 10]

It was a concern of mine before the season when I looked at aging curves in regards to the Rangers and specifically Nash, but so far the young Rangers core has been able to survive without their best goal-scorer because of unexpected contributions from players like Oscar Lindberg and the routine brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist.

For the Rangers to maintain their lofty standing and Stanley Cup aspirations, they will need a bigger contribution from Nash moving forward. One of the reasons for Nash’s early-season struggles is his lack of deception during shot creation. When a goaltender has half a second of clear sight, it greatly enhances their ability to read the play and assess the possible results before the play is completed.

The more information a shooter provides, the easier it is for the goaltender to stop the puck. The best shooters manage to delay relaying this information to the goaltender and when they add misdirection, they confuse the goaltender and increase their ability to score. This is why slot-line passes, rebounds, slot-line carries and breakaways are so successful and why Nash dominated during his torrid run in October 2014. It’s also why he has lacked success early this season.

With the help of the now-retired Martin St. Louis, Nash was able to deceive goaltenders through high-percentage plays during his hot stretch. He was the recipient of four slot-line passes and generated four slot-line carries that produced four goals. These are high-efficient plays that inflate your shooting percentage and are missing from his repertoire so far in 2015-16. This season, that number was cut in half with three slot-line carries and only one slot-line pass which resulted in zero goals.

It is essential to cross the slot line — the renamed “Royal Road” for those of you who have been following this series — and Nash illustrated this Tuesday night. He broke out of his early-season slump with a brilliant slot-line carry which resulted in his second goal of the season versus Carolina.

When Nash is attacking this imaginary line running through the slot, he resembles the 40-plus goal-scorer of a season ago. Although Nash continually gains the offensive zone with ease, he is also very prone to settling for clear-sight opportunities from the exterior.

If a defense gains the proper gap control, Nash will consistently settle for low-percentage shots. These shots are like playing catch with a goaltender and hold the double-edged sword of not directly producing goals, but also failing to create rebound or tip opportunities because Nash is usually the first to enter the zone and rarely delays or peels back awaiting help.

Even during the occasions when he has produced rebounds, they are resulting in strong side rebounds which goaltenders can keep in front of them while remaining square. Weak-side rebounds are the most valuable because they require the goaltender to pivot and find the puck before they re-adjust to the puck position. These can be caused by shooting to the far side pad instead of the short side which is more likely to stay out of the home-plate area.

Can Nash recover?

It’s likely that he will bounce back and produce his regular 30-goal pace and the slot-line will be essential to that recovery. Of his 42 goals in 2014-15, 17 were from him attacking and opening up goaltenders through slot-line carries or slot-line passes from, St. Louis, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan. He registered over 50 of these shots last season and is only on pace for 32 through October. This number will increase. Net drive was also important to his production with six goals coming from tipped pucks and four more from crashing the net and banging home rebounds.

Nash still exhibits all the elements that make him such a dangerous goal-scorer, but 40 was likely the outlier season at this stage of his career. Like most scorers, Nash relies on hot streaks and if he continues to drive the slot like he did on Tuesday, another one should be around the corner.

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BULLS RUN: RED BULLS ONE STEP CLOSER TO MAIN GOAL

Jesse Marsch predicted that the Red Bulls-D.C. United Eastern Conference Semifinals series wouldn’t be decided until the final minutes of the second leg.

It turns out that the Red Bulls‘ head coach was right.

In a hotly contested two-legged series, New York finally vanquished their rival late into extra time Sunday, as Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 90th-minute goal sealed the home side’s passage into the Conference Finals with a 1-0 second-leg victory and a 2-0 series win on aggregate.

As Wright-Phillips was about to coolly slot the ball past D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, the sellout crowd at Red Bull Arena rose to a crescendo, knowing what the goal meant for a club that navigated through such offseason turmoil.

After a hard-fought match, the Supporters’ Shield winners would be one step closer to lifting MLS Cup.

When asked about what he was going through his mind when he saw the goal, Marsch responded with one word: “Jubilation.”

“I think our fans and their excitement, the energy of the stadium, was rewarded with a big play at the end of the game,” he added. “I mean, that’s what we try to figure out a way to do, is to just make a play to give everybody a chance to congratulate this team, to experience this team, for the energy of the crowd to get rewarded. So yeah, I felt very good about that moment too and we just want to keep going. We just want to survive and keep going.”

Dominant and never seemingly threatened by the D.C. United attack, the Red Bulls held their rivals scoreless for over 180 minutes through the two legs. D.C. United managed to only trouble Luis Robleswith two shots on goal.

Despite going into the second leg behind on aggregate, the visitors opted for a puzzling defensive strategy. By not taking many risks and keeping it tight, the away side held the Red Bulls in check but didn’t offer much going forward. In three games at Red Bull Arena this season – regular season and Sunday’s playoff match – D.C. United was held scoreless.

“I thought [D.C. United] would come out more in this game,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said post-match. “Obviously, I think that shows they had a great respect for us and what we’re able to do at home. So, I was definitely surprised at how much they sat in.”

http://author.cqra.msg.com/content/msgsite/en/teams/red-bulls.html?vid=2678511549

What D.C. did do a good job of over two legs was making it a battle of attrition. Thunderous challenges were being thrown in on both sides. Robles felt the effects of the physical play, taking a boot from D.C. United’s Chris Rolfe square in the forearm in the first half. The Red Bulls’ goalie wasn’t surprised by the blunt force the opposition was dishing out on the pitch.

“We’re playing D.C United, it’s always going to be chippy,” he said. “They had a point to prove as well. We knew there were moments where they would be really direct. Did we expect them to play as direct as they did? Not necessarily, but that also shows the tactical awareness of the guys on the field to make the adjustments.”

http://author.cqra.msg.com/content/msgsite/en/teams/red-bulls.html?vid=2678511216

Eastern Conference Final Set

Hours after their series victory, the Red Bulls learned that they’d take on the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Final.

Down on aggregate, the Crew manage to rally in the late stages of Sunday’s match against the Montreal Impact. A goal from Ethan Finlay in the 77th minute forced extra time, which set the stage for Kei Kamara’s dramatic series winner in the 111th minute.

The Red Bulls won the season series 2-1, but each contest was a one-goal encounter with the final score ending 2-1 in all three matches. While the D.C. United series was more of a defensive struggle, the Eastern Conference Final should feature more expansive play.

“I think that the way that [Columbus play] and spread the field and the way that our style kind of contrasts with their style, kind of sets up for a really good series,” Marsch said when looking ahead.

Due to the international break, the MLS Playoffs will take a one-week hiatus and resume on Sunday, Nov. 22 in Columbus. The Red Bulls host the home portion of the series at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, Nov. 29.

The time off will be a welcomed respite for the teams involved. The Red Bulls suffered injuries to Shaun Wright-Phillips and Kemar Lawrence during Sunday’s win.

“At this point of the season, you’ll take the rest any day of the week,” McCarty said. “We’re fit, we have a tremendous base of fitness, we’re in a good vein of form. But we’re always going to take some time off if can get it because the body needs to recover.”

 

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BULLS RUN: RED BULLS READY FOR DESPERATE UNITED

It wasn’t pretty, but that won’t matter much to the Red Bulls and their fans.

In a game that wasn’t for purists, New York managed to slog their way to a 1-0 first-leg victory over D.C. United this past Sunday. In the 7nd minute, Dax McCarty gave the Red Bulls the advantage they’ll take into the home portion of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday, Nov. 8.

“We know the heart of the team of D.C. United. We know that they’re going to make you earn every inch at all moments of the game, and that’s what the game was like [Sunday],” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said in his post-match press conference.

“We managed to get one, get a big lead and now set ourselves up to go back home and push the game there.”

Despite controlling much of the play for the majority of the match, the Red Bulls were unable to cash in until McCarty came back to haunt his old team late in the second half. Not known for his aerial ability, the midfielder managed to head home Sacha Kljestan’s inch-perfect free kick into the back of the net to give New York a vital edge heading into second encounter.

It was fitting that McCarty was the goal-scorer, the man that many consider to be the heart and soul of the Red Bulls.

“[McCarty is] our captain,” Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles said after the match. “At the end of the day, we feed off of the way he plays. For him to score a goal, the way he did, in such a big moment is just a cherry on top of an incredible season that he’s had.”

With the advantage of the away goal, the Red Bulls look prime to finish off D.C. United at Red Bull Arena. Marsch, however, believes the series is far from over.

“We’re not taking anything for granted; it’s the playoffs,” he said. “D.C. is going to come to Red Bull Arena fighting for dear life. If you have one slip-up all of the sudden, the game can be in balance there. With the away goal rules, we’re far from out of the woods here. We’ve gotten to halftime, we’ve gotten a lead, but we certainly have a long way to go.”

Injury Sidelines Perrinelle

The Red Bulls will have to win MLS Cup without center back Damien Perrinelle after the Frenchman was forced to leave last Sunday’s first leg with a season-ending knee injury.

Perrinelle has formed a solid partnership with Matt Miazga in the heart of the Red Bulls’ defense and losing the veteran at such a critical period could prove costly going forward.

Marsch said he has faith in Ronald Zubar, Perrinelle’s replacement, and believes that his team will find a way to get over this.

“It’s time for everyone else to step up,” he said Tuesday. “Whenever you have a guy [get injured], you first feel for him. Then everybody has got to be ready to now cover for the job that’s been done and make sure the next guy that steps in is ready to go.”

A LOOK AHEAD: RED BULLS vs. D.C. UNITED SUNDAY

RED BULLS D.C. UNITED
18-10-6 (60 POINTS) RECORD 15-13-6 (51 POINTS)
W-3* (INCLUDES REGULAR SEASON)
STREAK L-1 
12-3-2 (HOME) HOME/ROAD RECORD 4-10-3 (AWAY)
1ST CONFERENCE POSITION 4TH
62 GOALS 43
1.82 GOALS PER GAME 1.26
43 GOALS ALLOWED 45
1.26 GOALS ALLOWED PER GAME 1.32
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS (17) TOP GOAL SCORER CHRIS ROLFE (11)
SACHA KLJESTAN (14) ASSISTS FABIAN ESPINDOLA (9)

While the Supporters’ Shield winners enter the second leg with a vital away goal – away goals are the first tiebreaker should the two teams be knotted after 180 minutes – the Red Bulls aren’t going to alter the way they play just because they have the lead. Expect more of the same style from the opening kickoff.

“We’re not going in with a mindset of protecting a lead,” Marsch said to the media Wednesday. “We’re going in it to be aggressive and expand on the lead and finish the game.”

The onus will be on D.C. United to come out and attack since they’re the team that’s behind, but they’ll have to do better than they did in the first leg. D.C. United failed to have any shots on goal in the first leg. According to MLSSoccer.com, United’s pass completion percentage (54.5 percent) was the lowest percentage this season.

http://www.msgnetworks.com/teams/red-bulls/feed.html

Red Bull Arena has also been a house of horrors for the away side. In two contests this season, the Red Bulls have outscored D.C. United, 5-0.

Nevertheless, Marsch still considers D.C. an extremely dangerous opponent.

“D.C. is going to come in here and throw everything they have,” he said. “These games usually set up to have wild endings and moments. We’ll be ready for them.”

 

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Will Oscar Lindberg Remain A Legit Threat For Rangers?

It is incredible to think that the Rangers are 8-2-2 and sit in first place in the Metropolitan division with 18 points despite their top two scorers from last season having scored a combined two goals. This is the benefit of depth scoring and it’s an added bonus when you receive it from an unlikely source. In this case, rookie Oscar Lindberg.

While it is easy to bemoan the fact that it’s likely Lindberg will not sustain his current 28.6% shooting percentage, it has offset Rick Nash’s 3% success rate early in the season. Terms like “luck” tend to follow a shooter when they come out of the gate with this type of success, but a better term would be “probability.”

From the chances I have tracked from Lindberg, his results aren’t luck-based as he is producing high-end opportunities. The challenge will be if he has the ability to continue to finish them at this extremely high rate as the season progresses.

Viewing Lindberg’s shots on goal through the first 12 games, we see a player who is dominating the highest scoring area. Of his 20 shots (not including one phantom shot), 13 have been extremely high-quality and he isn’t padding his shot totals with low percentage exterior driven possession level attempts. Of his shots, 25% have been preceded by a pass, he has crossed the royal road with possession 15% of the time and he has had a strong net-front presence resulting in 15% of shots from rebound opportunities.

Six goals would probably be the best case scenario based on his registered shots. Though, using my averages, he would be pushing close to four goals if he finished at an average rate. Based on his location metrics and pre-shot movement, I have Lindberg’s expected shooting percentage coming in at an inflated 18%.

Context like this is why I prefer to gain my information through a combination of scouting and numbers. If I go to war-on-ice and look at Lindberg’s on-ice possession metrics, I am greeted with underwhelming results. A 48.9% shot differential percentage, a 47% corsi percentage, a 48.5% fenwick percentage and a 51% scoring chance differential. (Editor’s Note: Read here and here for more information on what these advanced statistics mean and why they matter.) Looking at these types of metrics versus his plus-7 goal differential, this points us towards luck driving an unsustainable output.

When viewed against his actual shot metrics, we get a different result. The Lindberg line is anchored by Kevin Hayes, who last season showed a talent for driving high-quality opportunities. It offers a much different look than it did in 2014-15 with Carl Hagelin on it.

Hagelin was a high-volume shooter, who didn’t produce high-quality opportunities. While Hayes continues to be the driving force behind the third line unit, Lindberg complements Hayes well. Hayes has the ability to enter the zone with possession while Lindberg heads to spots on the ice to maximize his skills. Hagelin liked to enter the zone and shoot from low percentage zones and, while beneficial for possession metrics, it didn’t lead to even strength offense.

Visually, we can connect the reasons for Lindberg’s sky-high PDO. While his expected results don’t match his current PDO of 110.6 (14.93 shooting percentage + 95.71 save percentage), when you have Henrik Lundqvist behind you, you will likely benefit from a higher PDO.

Based on his 12-game sample, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that his shooting percentage will crash. There are examples of low volume shooters – like Alex Tanguay of the Colorado Avalanche – who maintain high shooting percentages based on lack of volume shooting and good finishing ability because even an average shooter would produce an 18% shooting percentage based on his actual performance, but it will normalize especially without the benefit of power play deployment. Lindberg has shown his scoring ability in the Swedish Elite League as well as the AHL, so the question remains: Is he an above average shooter?

I am not willing to jump to the conclusion that he has an elite shooting ability. But as long as Lindberg is matched with Hayes and they are deployed as an exploitation line against other the third lines of other teams, he is fully capable of matching Hagelin’s 17 goal output with a chance to hit 20 even with his below average shot rate.

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