Red Bulls Ponder a Change in Formation

HANOVER, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls haven’t fired on all cylinders in their first five matches of the 2017 MLS season.

A new formation coupled with several new players in the starting lineup have led to this initial sputtering to start the year, but it appears that some changes or tweaks could be on the way.

And for a team struggling in the final third, this is welcome news.

Last year in preseason, the Red Bulls tinkered with the idea of running a 4-2-2-2 formation and looked good in the process, partnering Gonzalo Veron with Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. But for much of the regular season, they ran with a version of the 4-2-3-1 to great success, overcoming a slow start to win the Eastern Conference. This year, they’ve stuck with the 4-2-2-2 through preseason, the ill-fated CONCACAF Champions League and now through five regular season matches.

The result is anemic finishing with just five goals scored this year, two of which were own goals. The team remains somewhat committed to the 4-2-2-2 while kicking around the notion of exploring the 4-3-3 or some variation thereof.

It may just be semantics, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that the Red Bulls could mix-up formation. But the 4-2-2-2 remains very much in the mix despite the opening struggles this season

“I think it’s still a big option for us, still something that we really like. I think we continue how to learn to apply that more.  We’re also thinking more about how to use the three and even how to have flexibility within the game and which guys to use in different spots,” head coach Jesse Marsch said on Thursday.

“A guy like Derrick Etienne can play a lot of different spots. So that flexibility is beneficial for us, it gets a lot out of a lot of different guys. We’ll see, we’ll what we look like this weekend.”

A worrisome component of the formation to date is that it in many ways it neutralizes the team’s best player. Last year’s form catapulted midfielder Sacha Kljestan to be a finalist for league MVP while getting him back into the thick of things with the national team.

Red Bulls Kljestan 101215

In a crowded and somewhat narrow at times midfield, Kljestan is forced to drift wide to find space. This in many ways isolates him on the wing, cutting back on the effectiveness and amount of touches for a player most comfortable in the center of the park.

“I think it’s more about the guys on the field, we’ve talked about not having good enough individual performances,” Kljestan said. “We also talked about when we made some changes in the offseason that some younger guys were going to start playing a lot of minutes early on and that we were going to go through some growing pains. Right now, we are going through some growing pains and something we’re going to have to have some patience with.”

Patience is always necessary, especially as young players such as Etienne as well as midfielder Tyler Adams and defender Aaron Long all start to see significant minutes. But the initial returns on the formation switch haven’t been positive, at least from afar.

It is a worrisome trend though for the Red Bulls as they’ve struggled to generate scoring chances. The aforementioned Wright-Phillips has two goals this year, but just six shots on goal, a testament to the lack of scoring opportunities that have been generated for one of the league’s top strikers from his midfield.

Red Bulls Notes

  • Aurélien Collin (quadriceps) and left back Connor Lade (ribs) did not train on Wednesday. Collin, injured this past weekend, is training tomorrow with the USL team while Lade was given the day off. The good news is that forward Fredrik Gulbrandsen was in training and completed the full session, wearing a neutral green jersey during the small-sided game.

The trio of Collin, Lade and Gulbrandsen do look ready to go this Sunday at Orlando City.

Red Bulls Connor Lade Real Salt Lake Sebastien Saucedo USAToday 032817

“I think they’ll all be available. We’ll just have to now think about overall minutes and cautiousness of where they’re at physically but I think all three will be available from the start,” Marsch said.

  • ]Young American midfielder Luis Gil, recently playing in the Mexican league, was signed by Orlando City on Wednesday. The Red Bulls are uncertain if he’ll suit up this weekend but they will do some homework on the player.

“Not sure. We’ll see, we’ll prepare for that. We’ll pull up some old video. I know Luis pretty well from being with the national team and working with him,” Marsch said. “Talented player, good at making final plays, good possession guy. We’ll prepare for the possibility of him playing.”