In any soccer match, one would expect the team with over 60 percent possession to come away with the win.
Not for the Red Bulls during their season-opener Sunday. Despite having 63 percent possession, the defending Supporters’ Shield winners came up short in trying to break down a stubborn Toronto FC defense. New York paid for its lack of scoring touch late in the game when Kemar Lawrence fouled Tsubasa Endoh in the box, leading to Sebastian Giovinco’s game-winning penalty in the 82nd minute. Another lightning-quick counterattack by the visitors in extra time sealed the Red Bulls’ fate, as they lost, 2-0.
“We had certain moments where you see us normally create better plays out of certain chances or finish plays off and we didn’t quite do it,” Coach Jesse Marsch said after the match.
It wasn’t from a lack of trying.
The hosts spent most of the game in the latter third of the field, probing for an opening. Toronto played extremely deep defensively though, allowing the Red Bulls to have the ball in space up until the penalty box. By playing so deep and essentially giving the ball to the Red Bulls, Toronto congested the area, making it difficult to complete even the simplest of passes.
The tactic frustrated the Red Bulls.
“We weren’t very sharp with our final ball,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “Our touch was letting us down. I feel like, obviously, they were blocked in. They weren’t really too adventurous apart from kicking it long. It was tough to find room.”
When the Red Bulls did find room, they were off with their shooting. According to Whoscored.com, they led all teams on opening weekend with seven shots off-target that were taken in the penalty box.
Undoubtedly, the Red Bulls will need to get better with their shooting and passing when faced with a defensive setup like Toronto’s. Other teams will go to school on what Toronto did and adopt similar tactics. By keeping things tight, the opposition puts the onus on the Red Bulls to be mistake-free in attack and defense. One error leads to a counterattack the other way with acres of space.
“The part that’s frustrating is that the penalty, just literally it was like one play that we let slip away and it cost us,” Marsch said. “So, you know, we’ve seen this [type of defense] in the past, so it’s not new.”
There are ways around the roadblock that is a packed defense, although it’s easier said than done. One way is to shoot from distance though it decreases your chances of being accurate on goal. Another is to have good one-on-one players, who can dribble in the tightest of spaces. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, their best dribbler, Gonzalo Veron, was out due to a hamstring injury.
“I think [Gonzalo] would be another player for [opposing teams] to think about,” Wright-Phillips said. “He’s obviously quick and can get behind. He’s another player when he comes back in, he’ll be good for us.”
Although hit with an early setback, Marsch doesn’t expect his team to be in the doldrums for long. He remained upbeat and believes that the loss will only strengthen his team’s resolves for the rest of the season.
“I think we have to expect these kinds of games at some times, this kind of approach, and we’ve just got to try to be better at making sure we don’t let the game slip away,” he said.
Baah Shines in Debut
One of the positives that came out of Sunday’s match was the play of center back Gideon Baah, who made his Red Bulls debut.
There were questions around Baah being the man tabbed to replace Matt Miazga in defense, but the 24-year-old did all he could to silence any doubt. He was imperious in his first game, keeping the likes of Giovinco at bay for most of the match. Strong, skillful and smooth on the ball, the left-footed Ghanaian pleased his coach with the performance.
“I thought [Baah] was very good,” Marsch said. “Clearly, on the ball he was fantastic. I think him and Ronald [Zubar] cut out a lot of plays and made it very hard on Giovinco. He didn’t touch the ball much, but every time he does, it’s dangerous. It’s not an easy task on the day. It was good. I think he fit into the team seamlessly.”
According to Whoscored.com, Baah made three tackles, had four interceptions and completed 76.1 percent of his passes.
A Look Ahead: At Montreal Impact Saturday
The Red Bulls face another Canadian outfit Saturday, as they head over the border to face the Impact in Montreal. Live coverage gets under way at 3:30 PM on MSG+2.
Montreal star striker, Didier Drogba, is expected to miss the Impact’s home opener. Nevertheless, the Impact are riding high after a 3-2 road win in Vancouver.
Two goals from Ignacio Piatti powered Montreal to the surprising victory over the Whitecaps. Despite being outshot 21-10, the Impact managed to be clinical with their finishing, led by the Argentine Piatti. A classic “No. 10,” Piatti plays an attacking midfielder role and linked up well for Drogba stand-in Dominic Oduro, who also got on the scoresheet.
Without or without Drogba, the Red Bulls face a daunting task. The Impact have won their last seven home matches and were 11-4-2 at Olympic Stadium last season.