The New York Red Bulls (1-0-1) head to Ohio to take on Crew SC (1-1-0) in an early Eastern Conference marquee matchup. The Red Bulls and Crew have had similar results in their opening two games of the 2015 MLS campaign. The Red Bulls started out n the road to Sporting KC and was able to secure a point on the road before dominating in its home opener against DC United. The Crew started the season on the road with a loss to Houston before dominating 10-man Toronto FC at home the following week. Both teams have had a bye week and are testing their depth with international call-ups and injuries.
While it is only two games into the season, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch’s style of play is starting to take shape. Marsch has described the playing style as an “energy drink” or, realistically, an “up-tempo” style. It has turned into the form of the midfield trio of Dax McCarty, Felpie Martins, and Sacha Klejstan applying pressure in the midfield, winning 50/50 battles, and playing penetrating passes to players who are stretching the field. Those players are generally supposed to be Lloyd Sam and Sal Zizzo/Mike Grella. Sam has done a superb job of knowing when to stay wide or when to cut inside to either link up with BWP or draw the fullback with him to allow an overlap with Chris Duvall. Zizzo and Grella have spent more time tucked inside and it wasn’t until after halftime in both games that the players started to mimic what Sam was doing. I’m going to credit this to a new system and team for both players and an adjustment time, even after pre-season, should be needed.
The Crew SC also have a dominate midfield trio with Will Trapp, Tony Tchani, and Federico Higuain, but they have more experience playing with each other and a year under their belt in this formation under head coach Greg Berhalter. The Crew trio is the yin to the Red Bulls trio’s yang. While the Red Bulls apply pressure to win balls back and slowly pin the opposing teams midfield further back, the Crew are best when absorbing that pressure, forcing mistakes, and turning those mistakes into counter attacks.
While the Crew are missing Waylon Francis and Justin Meram they do not have to worry about replacements as Chris Klute and Hector Jimmenez can easily slot into those roles. The big question mark is for the Red Bulls at left back. With Roy Miller still out injured and newcomer Kemmar Lawrence on international duty, it will be an interesting choice who Jesse Marsch slots on that side of the defense. The Red Bulls signed former FC Dallas and Rapids defender Anthony Wallace late last night. Wallace has played out wide in defense and spent time with the team during the pre-season. Other choices could be Connor Lade or Sal Zizzo. Zizzo is the least likely option as Grella just came back from injury and it has been a considerable time since Dane Richards went a full 90 minutes.
While the midfield battle could be a push for either side, it may come down to the lone strikers of each team and how they fare against the opposing team’s centerbacks. Kei Kamara has been very noticeable with his ability to connect on the Crew’s crosses and on their set pieces. Kamara’s problem has been his ability to finish but you don’t want to be the tem he figures out how to do that on. Matt Miazga and Damien Perinelle will have to be very aggressive defending him in the air to make sure he doesn’t get a clean look on net.
This is not going to be an easy ask of the Red Bulls on the road. Besides just the midfield trio matchup, it will be up to the Red Bulls to not mishit passes as they have done in their previous two matches. It is a process of gelling for the team but the Crew, unlike DC United, is a team poised to take advantage of mistakes you create. This will be the first of three matches between these teams. NY returns to Columbus on July 4th before hosting the Crew in October.