After a long international break, Nashville SC are back in action this week. They’ll travel to New Jersey on Friday night to take on New York Red Bulls for the first time in their history. For a better look at the Red Bulls, we spoke with Ben Cork, managing editor for Once A Metro.
Ben Wright: Red Bulls have had a good bit of turnover in the last year, between firing Chris Armas and bringing in Gerhard Struber, along with a decent amount of roster turnover. How has the transition been? How has the Red Bull philosophy remained in place and what are some of the differences?
Ben Cork: The club has definitely committed more to the Red Bull football philosophy than ever before after the team lost tactical coherence under Chris Armas. Gerhard Struber is perhaps the most highly-credentialed coach to come out of the Red Bull Salzburg academy program, and the team he has put on the field in New York features many of the traits energy drink soccer is known for, with high lines of defensive pressure and direct passing play being undertaken by a somewhat young lineup.
But if there is one wrinkle to Struber’s 4-4-2 diamond midfield formation, it’s an attempt to string more passes on the ground in the final third as well as when under pressure in the team’s own half. While such play has been somewhat inconsistent on both ends of the field so far, if the squad continues to gel with Struber’s tactically versatile approach the Red Bulls could be a fearsome team in the conference.
BW: Red Bulls are currently in 9th place in the East, two points behind Nashville. How has the season gone so far, and how are they living up to early expectations?
BC: There’s a mild air of optimism despite the sub-.500 record. The aforementioned clear tactical approach has earned Struber (and sporting chief Kevin Thelwell, recruited from Wolverhampton Wanderers and responsible for the club’s ample transfer activity) a great deal of faith even as the team sputters slightly early on. The Red Bulls have been just about perfect at home ever since a 2-1 opening night loss to Kansas City, and the team’s road losses have been narrow and competitive outside of a 10-man collapse against New England last month. While this honeymoon period probably won’t last too much longer, an understanding that this is a young team in need of time to settle has New York fans both forgiving of the team’s slips so far and salivating at the thought of the team hitting full stride.
BW: Losing Aaron Long for the season was clearly a major blow. How has the team coped with his absence and has the defense been able to maintain a similar level without him, or has there been a drop off?
BC: Obviously losing a player of Long’s quality and leadership skills is a massive blow after the club turned down lucrative transfer offers in the hope he would serve as a veteran stalwart. The team has shuffled through Andres Reyes (who earned a red card after scoring in the opening minutes against New England) and natural fullback Tom Edwards (who looked assured in a home win over Orlando) in recent weeks. Struber has hinted that any center back signing will likely be one that is for the long-term and thus one the club will be patient on, and it appears the club will ride it out with these options pairing Sean Nealis for the time being.
BW: Red Bulls don’t have the big names that you see from other teams in the league. Are they a case of the sum being greater than the parts? Who are some consistent standout players Nashville fans should watch for?
BC: With Aaron Long out for the season and Cristian Cásseres Jr away with the Venezuela team in the Copa America, the team’s biggest standout who Nashville will see is probably teenage sensation Caden Clark. The attacking midfielder has flourished at various roles in Struber’s diamond formation, and has contributed goals, dangerous deliveries from both run of play and dead ball situations, and energetic defensive work.
BW: What will the crowd look like on Friday? Are there still significant attendance restrictions in place?
BC: As of last month, New Jersey has allowed full capacity at outdoor sporting events but the club has been taking more incremental steps in reopening Red Bull Arena. While this is the first non-holiday weekend home game since the lifting of most restrictions, the combination of continued caution and Friday night rush will likely keep the crowd sparse for now.
BW: Do you have a lineup and score prediction?
BC: Going to predict a 2-2 draw as the Red Bulls continue to find ways to score but struggle to find solidity at the back.
GK: Carlos Coronel
DEFENSE: Kyle Duncan, Sean Nealis, Andres Reyes, John Tolkin
MIDFIELD: Sean Davis, Dru Yearwood, Caden Clark, Frankie Amaya
FORWARDS: Fabio Gomes Netto, Patryk Klimala