It’s a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old to be the lead striker for a Major League Soccer team, but that’s exactly the role Anatole Abang has been put in to.
The 6-foot-1 hulking forward has been coach Jesse Marsch’s preferred choice as the Red Bulls‘ lone front man in recent weeks, with veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips shifted to the left wing in the team’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Including the US Open Cup win over the Cosmos on July 1, the Red Bulls are 3-1-0 in the four matches Abang has started.
The Cameroonian is gifted with two things that make him an effective striker: Pace and power. His game-opening goal in last Saturday’s 2-1 Red Bulls loss in Columbus provided the perfect example of his abilities.
Abang deftly controlled Felipe’s pass with a delicate touch in midfield. His layoff to Wright-Phillips allowed him to sprint forward past the defense. After a perfectly weighted pass from BWP, Abang completed the move with a goal he made look easy. With his run taking him in the opposite direction, Abang let go of a perfectly placed shot past Crew goalie Steve Clark.
“Abang has been a big threat and has been a big, physical presence for us,” Marsch said to the media in his post-match comments Saturday. “So it was a very good goal and it was a way we knew we could punish [Columbus] by making their defenders turn and have to run and deal with our athleticism and our pace.”
With the loss of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill in the offseason, the main concern for the Red Bulls heading into this season was figuring out where the goals would come from. The initial thought was that New York would have to wait until the summer transfer window to address their lack of scoring punch. But it is Abang, a signing from Rainbow FC, that has stepped up.
Will the rookie be able to keep it going? That remains to be seen. It’s his first full MLS season and there are bound to be down points. In the meantime, the Red Bulls won’t complain about his efforts so far.
Shorthanded at Full Back
The Red Bulls find themselves in dire need of able-bodied full backs after starting right back Chris Duvall was lost for three-to-four months with a broken fibula.
With Duvall sidelined and left backs Roy Miller (Costa Rica) and Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) joining their respective national teams for CONCACAF Gold Cup duty, Marsch will have to rely on unproven players for the time being. Connor Lade, who is naturally a left back, was used at right back during Saturday’s loss in Columbus.
Veteran Anthony Wallace and youngster Shawn McLaws are the two likeliest candidates to fill in for the Red Bulls for the time being.
A Look Ahead: Saturday vs. New England Revolution
It’s another Eastern Conference matchup for the Red Bulls, as they take on the rival New England Revolution Saturday at Red Bull Arena.
The Revs have already beaten the Red Bulls this season – after New York fell 2-1 in New England back on May 2 – and were responsible for ending New York’s MLS Cup hopes in the playoffs last season.
The Revolution has many attacking options at its disposal, including one familiar face to Red Bulls fans. Former US international Charlie Davies leads the team with seven goals and the quick striker has already scored this season against New York.
Former Red Bull Juan Agudelo did not start in New England’s 3-0 loss to FC Dallas last Saturday, but did come off the bench for Davies in the 56th minute. With four goals to his name this season, the New Jersey native will be looking to get one over his former team.
After playing in three games last week, Marsch gave his players time off to rest and recuperate for this Saturday’s matchup. Despite the setback over the July 4 weekend, the Red Bulls remain confident and are eagerly looking forward to the game.
“This is such a positive group, such a positive place and we will be ready to kick on,” midfielder Mike Grella said to the media after the loss to the Crew. “Like I’ve said many times, this is a really long season, we’re not down, we’re just going to continue to work as hard as we possibly can and the results will come.”