Nashville SC has made it to New Jersey. What will the Boys in Gold have to look forward to against New York Red Bulls?
Opponent: New York Red Bulls (3-4-0)
Time, Location: Friday, June 18, 7 p.m. CDT (8 local) • Harrison, N.J.
Weather: 81ºF, 8% chance of rain, 33% humidity, 11 MPH SW winds
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MyTV30/NashvilleSC.com (local), ESPN+ (national stream) • 94.9 Game2 (English), 96.7 El Jefe (Español)
Non-nerd stats: 9 points, 1.29 PPG (9th East) • 1.11 GF/gm, 1.11 GA/gm
Nerd stats: +0.04 xG Power (12th MLS), +0.14 G Power (12th MLS). +0.11 “Luck” (11th MLS) • -0.05 Offense (13th MLS), -0.09 Defense (9th MLS). +0.60 homefield advantage (3rd MLS)
Vegas odds: Nashville SC +211, draw +222, New York Red Bulls +137
Match officials: Referee: Nima Saghafi. Assistants: Brian Poeschel, Eric Weisbrod. Fourth official: Natalie Simon. Video Assistants: Jose Carlos Rivero, Thomas Supple.
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe, and listen to our interview with Mark Fishkin. All the content from the draw in Atlanta. Gary Smith, Randall Leal, and Alex Muyl pregame presser (video and full transcript!). Q&A in printed form with Mark. Get hype with this week’s edition of The Playlist.
New York Red Bulls
Injury report: OUT D Andrew Gutman (knee), D Aaron Long (achilles), M Florian Valot (knee)
International duty: M Cristian Cásseres (Venezuela)
New York Red Bulls have a certain reputation within MLS. As is the case with most clubs in the global Red Bull organization… they gon’ press.
“I think the Red Bull umbrellas as a whole, you kind of know what they’re about,” said Nashville SC midfielder – and former RBNY player – Alex Muyl. “It’s going to be up-tempo, it’s going to be fast-paced, it’s going to be not a lot of time on the ball, it’s going to be a lot of pressing probably. They’re not going to have too much possession, they’re going to want to catch you in possession. They want you to play through the middle of the field and turn you over and go straight to goal. I think everyone kind of knows that about Red Bull.”
The press-and-possess style is in vogue at the highest levels globally. Manchester City under Pep Guardiola (who honed the concepts at Barcelona and Bayern Munich before his time managing in the Premier League) and Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp want to not only recover the ball in opposing territory, but hold onto it and progress with precision wherever it is they gain possession. Red Bulls? Not so much.
There have been tweaks along the way, including an attempt by former head coach Chris Armas to add a bit of that possession game to the heavy-press philosophy. However, current headman Gerhard Struber is deeply ingrained in the Red Bull Way. From 4-diamond-2 principles, he wants his team to press first and foremost… and the other stuff is maybe a nice bonus rather than a focus.
“Their gameplan is get the ball into the attacking third as quickly as possible – whether a Red Bull is on the end of a pass or not, it almost doesn’t matter,” said Seeing Red‘s Mark Fishkin. “Immediately, New York will send two and sometimes three players at whoever has the ball for Nashville. Get the ball in the attacking third, obviously you recover the ball that close to your opponent’s goal, you have a really good shot at generating a scoring opportunity, and then pounce on it.”
With that out of the way – and regular readers certainly know that five paragraphs on style before even getting to personnel is not the norm here, underscoring exactly how significant it is – let’s take a look at some of the who and how for this edition of the Red Bulls.
Carlos Coronel has played every minute between the pipes so far this season. The RB Salzburg loanee has a familiar name: he was Bethlehem Steel’s keeper for the infamous “this facility is not up to league minimums!” game in USL. He played three and a half games for the Union in 2019 and was elite, and eight for the Steel and was very good in those. I say that to indicate his below-average numbers so far this season (124% of xG allowed) may very well be a statistical anomaly. Despite Red Bull’s reputation for playing long, he’s only seventh among regularly-used keepers in vertical distance per pass this season (though some of that is because he has a very low completion percentage – most of the incomplete passes are also longballs).
In front of him, there’s a bit of a shakeup due to Long’s injury. Right back Kyle Duncan and centerback Sean Nealis are lock starters. But ephemeral Nashville SC signing Andrew Gutman is out with injury on the left side, probably putting 18-year old John Tolkin out there, while Tom Edwards (a right back by trade) has played as a centerback recently.
“There’s new signing, Englishman Tom Edwards, who traditionally plays right back but can slot over and play centerback next to Sean Nealis,” Fishkin said. “Kyle Duncan would slot in at right back, leaving Edwards to slot in next to Sean Nealis once again, most likely.”
“Listen, they continually find ways to fill those gaps,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said. “Aaron Long, I’m sure, is a huge loss to the group and a very talented defender – but as I say, they’ve got good depth, good young depth. They’ve always got good young players coming through.”
Duncan is having a fine year, according to ASA‘s Goals Added, but is the only Red Bulls defender who can claim that distinction. Some of that is simply because of the team’s style: basically every defender has a low passing score dragging down the overall G+ number. Surprisingly, though, there’s not a ton of interrupting success outside of Duncan and Nealis. You would typically expect a team whose identity can basically be summed up as “interrupting” to be much more impressive in that regard along the back.
Sean Davis has been at the base of the midfielder diamond basically throughout (the only exceptions have been when he’s part of a double-pivot when NYRB has switched to a 4-2-3-1 at times). He’s very much a stay-at-home interruptor and distributor who is not going to get forward much except when the press has him pushed up the field and he happens to be up there with his side in possession.
At the other tip of the diamond, up top, the Red Bulls’ injury report provides some good news: Frankie Amaya should be available. The onetime FC Cincinnati player has a fresh start as a No. 10 for the Red Bulls, though he hasn’t found a ton of success yet in 2021, and was actually playing as one of the “wide” midfielders when he was injured in the win over Orlando City. If he’s available, though, he provides more positional flexibility for one of the league’s young fave-rave players, 18-year old Caden Clark, to work as a forward or one of those shuttling midfielders with the freedom to get forward. He’s sort of stuck between positions because his skillset and physical build don’t match up yet, but he gets goals.
“The thing that Caden needs to work on is, because of the 4-diamond-2 that he’s playing, there’s a lot of questions about whether he should be one of the two forwards or at the top of the diamond,” Fishkin said. “He’s not a creator – he’s yet to have an assist this year – he just gets on the ball. He doesn’t seem to be a natural fit at the 10; I just don’t think that’s his game. He’s a 9, but he’s still not physically developed all the way. He doesn’t do the hold-up play, and he has to grow.”
The right-sided shuttler position is up in the air because of an international absence: Cristian Cásseres is with Jhonder Cádiz and Venezuela after playing nearly every available minute so far this season.
“Thankfully there’s a player that has played in Casseres’s spot, and one of the reasons that New York has gone so young is the ability to go deep with their lineup,” Fishkin said. “Dru Yearwood is an English Young DP who joined the club last season who has not gotten too many 90-minute appearances. He’s going to slot in either at the six or one of the shuttler-eight diamond positions for New York. He’s a different kind of player than Casseres. Casseres can be a hot-and-cold player for New York.”
Yearwood hasn’t played enough in 2021 to differentiate himself to G+, but he was awful to the metric last year, very far below average in every breakout category aside from dribbling (particularly poor fouling and interrupting, which I would imagine are related). Cásseres is a very good dribbler and not particularly notable in most other respects, so it’ll be very interesting to get a long look at Yearwood in the shuttler spot and understand what makes him different.
Up top, Red Bulls have gone with Austrian Dani Royer for the most part (at 5-10, 160, he’s more a natural winger, but with a strike pair he fits in just fine), and some combination of Polish DP Patryk Klimala, monoymic Brazilian Fabio, and former SuperDraft pick Tom Barlow next to him.
Fabio leads the way with 1.76 xG but has yet to find the back of the net (not-coincidentally, lowest G+ shooting on the team), Royer has 1.33 xG and also has yet to score, and Klimala – in just 165 minutes across three appearances, so very low sample size – hasn’t scored on 0.37 expected goals.
You can see the temptation to play the 5-11, 150-pound Clark (with four goals, he has accounted for 40% of the team’s scoring) up top, particularly when Cásseres (30% of the team’s scoring) is not available. Fabio is a nice setup guy, with three assists on five key passes, and if you can find ways to run Clark off him, you may very well find the benefits thereof. Of course, Clark’s scoring to date has come from deeper positions in the midfield, so if putting him a little deeper in the formation gives him those opportunities, don’t mess with a good thing, and Struber probably understands that two non-scoring strikers isn’t damning as long as their presence allows Clark to score.
This is a Red Bulls team that is not scoring at a high clip, and surprisingly has a pretty low “interrupting” G+ number overall (4.61 – 15th in the league). If a little bit of rest can get them into better disrupting form, the ceiling rises very quickly.
The Boys in Gold
Injury report: OUT: M Brian Anunga (quad) F Dom Badji (ankle) F Daniel Ríos (adductor)
International duty: Jhonder Cádiz (Venezuela)
While Jhonder Cádiz is away for Copa América still, Nashville’s expectation is that the other players who were recently gone on international duty should be available.
“Our mindset and our thought process was that those guys, once they’d finished their duty, were going to be part of the group,” Smith said. “I’ve no reason to suspect otherwise. Arrangements have been made and we’ll be ready to accept them back into the group.”
That was obvious with Alistair Johnston and Walker Zimmerman, who were already in the country (and thus didn’t have COVID questions to answer – at least not within the past 10 days for Johnston), but should also mean that Aníbal Godoy is ready to go from an availability standpoint, even if he needs a bit of rest after two hard-fought games with Panama.
“Honestly, I just watched some videos this morning about them, and what we want to play against them,” Leal said Wednesday. “Honestly, I don’t know too much about them, but it’s good to do well against them, and win. It’s the first time that we play against them, and it’s good to make a good step in front of them.”
With the nearly three-week break, the team otherwise spent much of its practice time making tweaks and installing some curveball tactical principles to complement the typical 4-2-3-1 with base personnel that we’ve come to expect with the Boys in Gold.
“As far as the work goes, it’s given me an opportunity to look at one or two things that I might not normally have been able to,” Smith said. “A ‘Plan B,’ a ‘Plan C,’ seeing players in slightly different positions, and obviously looking a little bit more focused at one or two guys that have not seen the field as much. It’s certainly been helpful to me, and I think to them.
“We’ve looked at a back-three, what that means, what we want out of it, whether we might need it. Dylan [Nealis]’s capable of playing as a right wingback in that system and a right-side centerback. We’ve looked at playing a three- or four-man midfield in that system with Luke [Haakenson] slightly to the right of a flatter three in midfield.”
The biggest question for Nashville will be what happens up top. Despite adding plenty of reinforcements in comparison to last season, striker depth is once again being tested. Daniel Ríos’s foot injuries remain persistent, Dominique Badji suffered a bad twisted ankle against Atlanta United, and Jhonder Cádiz is representing his country in South America’s continental championship. That leaves just a couple guys available: CJ Sapong and Abu Danladi are the only true strikers on the roster (inasmuch as you can call them both that, given that Danladi has also contributed as a winger).
That’s a much better situation than “Derrick Jones plays as a holdup guy because he’s tall” like Nashville had to implement on a couple occasions last year. It’s still less-than ideal. It does give the opportunity for Sapong to prove himself as a No. 1 guy – and can get Danladi into the position off the bench to provide some speed – but things are thin there, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to see some experimental choices like pushing Randall Leal or Hany Mukhtar farther forward than usual, etc.
For Manhattan native Alex Muyl, it’s a homecoming.
“Just being around my family is just going to be a great feeling, and to be playing in front of them again in these times,” he said. “In this past year, it’s been hard to play in front of family, obviously, because they haven’t been able to travel. So that’s going to be really nice for me.”
May it be a successful one.
Keys to the game
- Be willing to boot long. Nashville SC has shown plenty of desire to build out of the back and be more a possession team this season than in years past. I still get the heebie-jeebies thinking about some specific instances with, like, Joe Willis or Walker Zimmerman on the ball (and unfortunately, some struggle for Dax McCarty so far this season at times, as well). they have to be willing to get the ball out of their own end rather than giving NYRB chances.
- Set pieces. Red Bulls’ non-Caden Clark offense this year has been all Cristian Cásseres, and with the Venezuelan unavailable, it’s basically all set-piece production remaining. Don’t get beat on set pieces. And if you care to score on one or two, that’d be nice, as well.
- Contain Clark. You don’t want to overcommit to an 18-year old who’s very good but not exactly Messi. But I’ve just said that RBNY doesn’t have much outside of him, so…
- Taste of their own medicine. Red Bulls are known for their press, and as I’ve mentioned in previewing them above, maybe not always the desire or technical ability to play in possession. They really feast on teams turning it over in their own end, and won’t have a ton of opportunity to generate offense otherwise. So press ’em (I think we all know this is likely to be situational at-best), and you may very well be able to get the easy opportunities – or at least possession in their defensive end – that they want for themselves.
Red Bulls get one very early off the press, with the classic RBNY “turnover to one pass to goal” for Royer, his first of the year. Nashville, however, manages to dominate possession (because Red Bulls don’t want the ball), and pours on a bit of pressure going into the halftime break. The Boys in Gold manage to convert midway through the second half, and despite continued pressure can’t find the second.
The game ends in a 1-1 draw.