If you wanted to diagram a typical goal from a team coached by Jesse Marsch, Sunday’s Red Bulls home-opening win over D.C. United provided the perfect example.
D.C. United had the ball in its own half with midfielder Davy Arnaud looking to push play forward, but the Red Bulls had Arnaud right where they wanted him. Felipe Martins and Sacha Kljestan pressed Arnaud into a turnover and the counter-attack was on.
As numbers poured forward for New York, Bradley Wright-Phillips took control of the ball and found an open Lloyd Sam, who slotted the ball into the next with a near-post finish past Bill Hamid. The goal put the game away and the Red Bulls would win their first game in the Jesse Marsch era.
That’s the instruction the players have been getting from their new boss ever since Marsch took over the head coaching position early in the year. It’s a quick-reacting, counter-attacking brand of soccer that has been made popularized by German side Borussia Dortmund. The objective is to create havoc in the opposition’s half by pushing the midfield high up the field and forcing the other team into mistakes in their own half.
“Yeah, that is definitely part of the game plan,” Sam said after Sunday’s 2-0 win over D.C. United. On my goal – the second goal – that was exactly how we’ve been working.”
This is what Marsch wants to see from his team this season: An energetic, athletic, high-pressing group that plays with pace. From minute one to the final whistle, Marsch expects his side to be aggressive and be in the face of the other team.
“The goal of the pressing is to win balls and win them in the midfield,” Marsch said Sunday. “To have guys be dangerous and on the move so that we put [the opposing team’s] defenders on their heels when we win it and play forward quickly. I think that’s a lot of the ways that we get goals.”
Marsch has set up the Red Bulls the same way in the first two games, employing a 4-2-3-1 formation that is currently en vogue around the world. The “2” in the formation are the holders of the midfield and provide the foundation for most of a team’s attacks.
In the Red Bulls’ case, those roles belong to Felipe and Dax McCarty. The duo seized control of the match and were the catalysts for both goals scored. It’s a partnership that has shown early promise and one that the new team captain thinks will only get better.
“Felipe is a great player,” McCarty said. “Jesse knew what he was doing when he traded for him. He’s a guy that always wants the ball, I love that about him. Our relationship in the midfield is starting to blossom a bit. We’re starting to get those connections down a little bit more. We need to look for each other and hopefully win the midfield every game this season.”
A Look Ahead: Red Bulls at Crew (Saturday 7 PM, MSG2)
The Red Bulls head back on the road for a matchup against the Columbus Crew Saturday on MSG2 and will attempt to keep their unbeaten record going.
Columbus had a bye week last weekend, but is coming off a 2-0 win over Toronto FC in its home-opener back on March 14. Any game against the Crew starts and ends with one question: How do you slow down Columbus playmaker Federico Higuain?
A playmaking midfielder by trade, Higuain has been the Crew’s most valuable player the last two seasons and has scored 22 goals during that time span. The onus will be on McCarty and Felipe to figure out a way to quell Higuain’s influence during the match.
The Crew have also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in the first two games this season. At the top of that formation is Kei Kamara, who returned to Columbus after spending time in England. Kamara is a physical force and will pose a threat to any backline in MLS.
The question for Marsch is if the Red Bulls’ head coach decides to keep his starting 11 unchanged or take young Matt Miazga out of the lineup should veteran Ronald Zubar prove fit for the match.