Nashville SC’s season-opening home-and-home with the Greater Tri-State Area sees a trip to Harrison, N.J. beckon this afternoon. What should NSC fans expect from the other New York team?
Opponent: New York Red Bulls (15-11-8 in 2022)
Time, Location: Saturday, March 4, 6:30 p.m. CDT (7:30 local) • Harrison, N.J.
Weather: 42ºF, 6% chance of rain, 72% humidity, 7 mph NNW wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MLS Live on Apple TV (free) • 104.5 The Zone
Match officials: Referee: Pierre-Luc Lauziere.
Assistants: Jose da Silva, Ryan Graves. Fourth Official: Ismir Pekmic. Video Assistants: Alejandro Mariscal, Craig Lowry
Vegas Odds: Nashville SC +298, Draw +233, Red Bulls -103
Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith, Sean Davis PLUS RBNY pressers.
|Stat (2022)||Nashville SC||RBNY|
|Record (W-L-D)||13-10-11 (1.47 PPG)|
|15-11-8 (1.56 PPG)|
|Recent form (most recent first, 2023)||W||L|
|xG Power||+0.38 (6th MLS)||+0.34 (7th MLS)|
|G Power||+0.22 (6th MLS)||+0.22 (7th MLS)|
|“Luck”||-0.16 (20th MLS)||-0.12 (17th MLS)|
|Offense||+0.23 (7th MLS)||+0.02 (12th MLS)|
|Defense||-0.15 (8th MLS)||-0.32 (3rd MLS)|
|Venue advantage||+0.76 Away (2nd MLS)||-0.56 Home (24th MLS)|
|Injury report||QUEST.: M Aníbal Godoy (shoulder)|
OUT: D Nick DePuy (leg)
|OUT: OUT: F Serge Ngoma (hamstring), M Dru Yearwood (hamstring)|
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls are who we think they are… basically every year. They don’t change much when it comes to the “what” or the “how,” the only variable ends up being how well they actually perform. Last year’s team was pretty good! This year’s started with a thud, losing to Orlando City on a penalty in the opener – possibly a bad beat, given that the teams’ creation was almost equal (0.98-0.93 advantage to the Lions, but with the penalty providing 0.72 of OCSC’s output, Red Bulls really dominated outside of one crucial moment).
The Red Bulls are gonna press over 120 yards of the field, mostly out of a 4-4-2 with the ballside striker working hard against CBs and keeper, and try to turn the opposition over in its own end. Under Gerhard Struber, they’ve been a little less prone to just banging the ball into the attacking third and finding out what transpires, but this isn’t a squad that wants to come out and play The Beautiful Game®.
Central midfielders Frankie Amaya and Cristian Cásseres are disruptors first, attacking players [file not found], though the latter can progress the ball pretty well while Amaya is content to be a rich man’s Brian Anunga. They are very left (Cásseres)/right (Amaya)-oriented in all phases of the game.
Joining them in the midfield line are a couple true wingers, with former Inter Miami only-good-player Lewis Morgan on the left, and Luquinhas on the right. Last season, Luquinhas was bad at pretty much everything except getting fouled, though like a true Red Bull he was an above-average interruptor up the pitch. Morgan’s a good dribbler and a top-notch shooter. He doesn’t really receive the ball in good positions, but given that the point of the Red Bull system is that he’s creating opportunities via the turnover, that’s not really a crucial part of the scheme (particularly since he does manage to advance the ball on the dribble when he gets it in just-OK positions).
Striker Tom Barlow is a semi-immobile (even in the Red Bull system, he’s barely above-average in interrupting) striker who camps out to receiver passes and execute the turn-shoot phase of finishing in those unsettled moments. He gets a lot of the ball, but finishes just OK. Elias Manoel started next to him in the opener, but with just 384 minutes last season, it’s tough to know too much about what to expect of him.
The big storyline in defense is the departure of Aaron Long, whose athleticism has played a big role in the Red Bulls’ ability to play a high line (or sometimes not even a line at all as they aggressively press) when he’s been healthy in recent years. Given that Long hadn’t been healthy for the better part of a year and a half – he tore his Achilles in May 2021, and didn’t get back to full speed last year even though he was playing – there’s plenty of experience in the bank for Andrés Reyes. He got just under 800 minutes last year (despite a foot injury that kept him out until July), and started last weekend’s game alongside returning stalwart Sean Nealis. Neither Nealis nor Reyes is a major interruptor, which makes sense given that Red Bulls want to do their interrupting higher up the pitch, and the CBs are there to win second balls and/or clean up if the press gets broken. They are also poor passers according to G+, but again that’s a style choice by Red Bulls: the centerbacks are supposed to bang long and keep the ball penned into the opponent’s defensive third.
Fullbacks John Tolkin and Cameron Harper are fairly different from each other. Tolkin likes to sneak into the attack to take shots, is a less-interrupty defender than you might expect for a Red Bull, and not particularly clean on the dribble or connecting with teammates. Harper is a more counting stats-oriented defender, and better on the dribble, but doesn’t provide much in the way of finished product. You may know Tolkin from being a Comedy Haircut Guy (or US Youth International, but more Comedy Haircut Guy).
Keeper Carlos Coronel allowed a goal on his only shot faced last weekend… and you’ll recall from the above that it was a penalty kick, so that says somethin’ about somethin’ re: the effectiveness of the RBNY defense against Orlando’s attack. In a more robust sample size (I’m gonna draw a line in the sand and say N=1 is not big!), he was a slightly below-average keeper a year ago, allowing 110% of xG against. He faced an above-average percentage of his shots as headers, so… I don’t necessarily know how to interpret that, given xG numbers should be absolute, but facing a lot of headers still feels easier, to me.
Overall, this team was the better of the two last weekend, despite playing on the road. Losing on a (deserved) PK feels like a bad beat, and when the Red Bulls play at home, they’re historically pretty tough – even though last year’s Homefield Advantage number was poor.
The Boys in Gold
Aníbal Godoy is listed as questionable, but Gary Smith made no secret of the fact that he didn’t participate in full-team training this week and will not be available. With Dax McCarty – a former Red Bulls captain – back, there’s… if not quite “like for like,” at least a “quality-for-quality” replacement available. He’ll presumably start next to Sean Davis, a former Red Bulls captain. They will be tasked with winning battles in the center of the field, and more importantly, connecting with teammates to prevent the Red Bulls from gaining the ball back immediately after those changes of possession. Winning second balls on the ground and moving the ball to an attacker will be big.
In the attacking phase of the game, Hany Mukhtar hsould be ready for a start (and possibly even a full 90, if necessary), while CJ Sapong will be available, though he may not beat out Teal Bunbury on quality to start up top. The factor that could play to his advantage is that he’s a better aerial and target forward – not that Bunbury’s particularly bad – and having that guy available to get the ball out of NSC’s end is important. That may be the stylistic choice that RBNY forces you into… but if you have a guy who wins the battle, then that’s good!
Smith implied at his availability this week that speed on the wings is going to be a factor for Nashville, so a repeat of the starting wingers feels likely.
Keys to the game
- Don’t get caught. This is what Red Bulls want to force you into! When the ball is at the feet of your less-technical players, they want to force turnovers high up the pitch. This will be a test for Walker Zimmerman (who is good with the ball at his feet in an MLS context, at least), and particularly Jack Maher – a better ball-playing CB than the player he replaced, but still relatively inexperienced.
- Win the second ball. This is the other cornerstone of the Red Bull style! They want to turn the midfield into a mucked-up lil area where a header turns into another header turns into a 50/50 ground duel – and they bet on themselves to win more than their fair share of those duels in each and every of the categories. Nashville SC, you’ll note, is also a good duel-winning team, so beating RBNY at its own game is big!
- Quick transition. Get Hany on the ball in a bit of space, isolated against defenders. Because LMAO.
- Set pieces. Red Bulls may not play a beautiful game, but they make it difficult for the opposition to play a beautiful game, as well. To be quite honest, Nashville can play a beautiful game (much more than they get credit for from the so-called intelligentsia around the league’s media ecosystem), but they’re capable of winning without doing so. The differentiator in that regard can be play from dead balls.
Nashville SC 1, New York Red Bulls 1