Peculiar scheduling by Major League Soccer gives New York Red Bulls a shot at redemption Friday when they face Houston Dynamo at Red Bull Arena.
Houston pulverized the Red Bulls at BBVA Compass Stadium last Friday with a 2-0 win that took Dominic Kinnear’s side to the Eastern Conference’s summit. The misleading final score doesn’t reflect the Dynamo’s margin of victory, which was wider than the Holland Tunnel.
New York Head Coach Hans Backe must find a way to prevent Houston’s midfield trio of Adam Moffat, Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia from dominating the game this time around if his team are to achieve a positive result.
Finding A Solution
“We need to do something to match them,” Backe told the media after last week’s loss. The Swede, a tactically stuffy trainer who’s been bound to a classic 4-4-2 style of play, would be well served to mirror the Dynamo’s current 4-3-3 formation.
Prior system changes from Backe have tended to be reactions to injuries or suspensions – a five-man midfield, for example, when captain Thierry Henry chooses not to play on surfaces that aren’t to his liking.
Sebastien Le Toux’s arrival from Vancouver Whitecaps last month prompted Backe to accommodate three forwards into his line-up against Seattle Sounders at Red Bull Arena on July 15. Henry started in the hole behind top scorer Kenny Cooper and Le Toux, leaving Dax McCarty overwhelmed in central midfield against Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso and Andy Rose. It was a disastrous experiment that was abandoned within 20 minutes.
Backe should spread his three forwards across the width of Houston’s defense if he revisits a 4-3-3 formation Friday. Henry made his reputation at Arsenal by drifting to the left and cutting into the penalty area. Start him there. This keeps one of the league’s most dangerous attackers close to the opposition’s penalty area where he produces his best work. It also reduces Henry’s requirement to defend as Houston’s right-back Andre Hainault is unlikely to push forward as much as Corey Ashe on the opposite flank.
Cooper provides the physical presence at center-forward to unsettle Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor. Le Toux’s attacking quality and height can then be used against the diminutive Ashe on the right wing.
McCarty’s return from suspension is a huge boost for the Red Bulls defensively. Pairing new designated player Tim Cahill with experienced Estonian international Joel Lindpere in front of the Floridian in a three-man midfield gives New York two technically gifted players with a nose for getting into the opponent’s penalty area, much in the same vein as Davis and Garcia.
Numerical Disadvantage In Midfield Floored New York
Cahill made his MLS debut in Houston alongside Teemu Tainio in McCarty’s absence. Cahill had participated in one training session since his recent arrival from Everton and Tainio was making his first appearance since March 31. This left the Red Bulls woefully short of manpower and energy to combat the guile, movement and playmaking of Davis and Garcia, and unable to shut down Moffat’s promptings from deeper.
Cahill and Tainio needed defensive support from either a wide midfielder or from a forward dropping back to sit on Moffat. Given Ashe’s propensity to support former Red Bull Macoumba Kandji down Houston’s left side, hence occupying Jan Gunnar Solli, Connor Lade could have moved inside to pick up Garcia. Tainio would then have tracked Davis while Cahill could pressure Moffat higher up. Lindpere would have been more street-smart than the rookie Lade in this situation, but Backe left the Estonian on the substitutes’ bench.
Backe also surprisingly left Cooper on the sidelines. Le Toux partnered Henry in attack and quickly found himself marooned as his countryman dropped deep in search of the ball.
There are a number of flaws with Henry’s tendency to retreat. He is most dangerous around the opposition’s penalty area and presents little threat from midfield. He frequently concedes possession either through inaccurate passes or taking too much time on the ball, and defensive duties rarely figure into the Frenchman’s game. Consequently, Moffat received too much space to act as a conduit between his back line and attacking players even when Henry drifted into the midfield.
Four Full-Backs Negate Red Bulls’ Attacking Threat
New York’s play during Backe’s tenure has been wildly erratic. There have been highs such as last season’s devastating 4-0 win at D.C. United. Equally it’s no surprise when they’ve been swept aside as easily as they’ve been by Houston, Montreal Impact and New England Revolution in recent weeks.
The Red Bulls’ better performances have tended to feature good wing play: adventurous full-backs pushing forward to support tricky wide midfielders – Roy Miller and Lindpere on the left, Solli and Dane Richards on the right – while the two forwards look for space around the penalty box.
Richards has gone now, sent to Vancouver in the Le Toux trade, and Lindpere still seems out of favor. That’s led Backe to use Lade and Solli in midfield, a rookie full-back and an average full-back respectively, severely curtailing his side’s attacking prowess.
Matching Houston’s formation with three forwards spread across the front and Cahill and Lindpere supporting gives Backe a real threat from five top-quality attacking players rather than the three he used in Texas.
Outcome Of Matching Systems
Friday’s game will hinge on individual battles across the field if Backe chooses to mirror Houston’s system. Kandji tormented Heath Pearce down New York’s right side last week, so does Backe persist with the U.S. international or opt for Solli or Brandon Barklage?
Can Markus Holgersson impose his physical strength upon Will Bruin rather than the other way around?
And can Cahill and Lindpere, with little training time together, combine with the Red Bulls’ front three to push Davis and Garcia into their own half?
July 18, 2012 — Henry’s Searing Volley Scorches The Fire
July 16, 2012 — Backe Backtracks To Revive Red Bulls
June 11, 2012 — Vancouver Dominates Central Midfield To Overcome Houston