The New York Red Bulls have turned into one of the toughest opponents for Columbus Crew SC in Major League Soccer in recent years. Two of the league’s original franchises, the teams played each other 68 times so far, with the Red Bulls winning 30 of them and Crew SC 27.
The teams, who are set to play again this Saturday at the Red Bull Arena, in New Jersey, are known around the league for their well-organized styles of play, even if they do it in distinct ways.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter, who has had the Red Bulls as an opponent 13 times since he took over, with four victories, six setbacks and three ties, knows what to expect when the teams cross paths again this weekend.
“It’s always a difficult game for us,” he said. “I think it’s difficult for most teams that want to put the ball on the ground and play. What they do they do very well, so we have to be aware. It doesn’t mean we can’t play at all. When you look at last game, there were times when we really picked them apart, particularly in the first half, so there will be opportunities, we just have to be smart.”
The Red Bulls have gone through a coaching change earlier this month as Jesse Marsch, who was the head of the team since 2015, left the club to take an assistant coaching role with the Red Bull Leipzig, in Germany.
Chris Armas, who had been Marsch’s assistant during his entire tenure with the team, took over and led the Red Bulls to win three of the four matches the team played since then. According to Berhalter, not much has changed in the team’s style so far.
“I think there’s a little bit of difference and it’s normal,” the coach added. “As he gets more games the team it will start to take on more of his personality. It has a lot of Jesse still in it but as he works longer they will buy more of his ideals and how he thinks their game should be played. He’s going to do a good job, he’s a smart guy and knows soccer really well.”
One of the most noticeable aspects of the Red Bulls’ game under Marsch was the high-pressure the team executed, especially when playing at home. The team’s efficiency to disrupt the opposition’s build up was affective several teams in the league, the Crew included.
The high-pressure remains a trend with Armas in charge and because of that, don’t be surprised if you see the Black & Gold replacing its traditional possession-heavy style by a more direct one this weekend.
“I think you always have to be looking to do that, otherwise they build too much pressure,” Berhalter acknowledged. “And they are very good at it. It has to be something you are aware of. If there’s space behind, that’s where the ball needs to go. If you have a big guy to win the first ball, the second ball is tough for defenders as they’ll be running back towards their goal.”
Versatility is another of several attributes this Red Bulls’ team commonly displays. It was seen first-hand by the Crew when the teams met in June, as, after a dominant performance of the Black & Gold in the first half at MAPFRE Stadium, the visitors were able to completely change the game with some slight tactical adjustments and take home a 1-1 tie.
After watching some video, Berhalter believes the Crew is prepared for all scenarios.
“They changed to a 3-3-3-1 and it did a good job of containing our buildup,” the coach analyzed. “They pushed their wingbacks up to our fullbacks. The pushed their forwards up high against our center backs and left the middle open. They had to choose. In the first half they closed the middle and in the second half they chose to close the wings. They got to choose one and we’ll be prepared for both scenarios.”