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Massive Scouting Report: New York Red Bulls

Columbus heads on the road for an opening-week rematch versus a longtime rival.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer’s Week 21 is upon us, and Columbus Crew SC has the opportunity to claw themselves closer to the playoff hunt. Following the team’s first win in league play since the beginning of May, the Black & Gold hit the road to face fellow league originals in the New York Red Bulls. A solid result to start the season, the Crew was able to hold the Red Bulls to a 1-1 draw at MAPFRE Stadium.

Fast-forward 20 weeks and the two teams are in very different positions. Columbus is on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference top seven while New York has established itself as one of the more consistent sides in the league and firmly hold the fourth spot in the East. These two sides also aren’t the same teams that met all the way back on March 2. With minor changes having come to Chris Armas’ side, the Crew is looking to fully establish new faces for the road ahead. To make that next step forward, a stern challenge in New York await.

Let’s take a look at Saturday’s opponent for the Black & Gold.

Red Bulls at a glance

Form: L-D-W-L-W

Leading scorer: Daniel Royer (midfielder) / Brian White (forward): 7 goals

Assist leader: Daniel Royer: 6 assists

Potential Starting XI

How they play

Chris Armas has been on the Red Bulls coaching staff since 2015 and took over the head coaching position beginning in July of last season. He has primarily favored a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the pair of defensive midfielders in front of the backline to allow a high line or to drop back. There is a lot of flexibility in this formation, something that Armas heavily enjoys. He has been known to get a lot out of the players at his disposal, giving them plenty of opportunities to make a statement.

In short order, New York has done that and then some. The Red Bulls have the second-most assists in the league this season with 45, trailing only the best team currently in MLS, Los Angeles Football Club (54). They’ve also scored the fourth-most goals on the year with 37. Armas has gotten his guys to play well as a team, playing with many different starting lineups this season.

Sticking with a 4-2-3-1 formation against Columbus makes a lot of sense for Armas. He could very well start backup striker Bradley Wright-Phillips to give the busy Brian White some rest. After not playing following last Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Toronto FC, it’s very likely the red-hot White will be back in the lineup after an uninspiring showcase from reserve striker Tom Barlow. The veteran Wright-Phillips has two goals in 12 matches played on the season, as does Barlow in only six games.

How the Crew win

Wins finally look more realistic given that Columbus was able to get its first in what seemed like a lifetime. Head coach Caleb Porter was quick to praise the philosophy of New York and the way the team is able to play. He’s very aware of the pressure that the Red Bulls will look to attack the Crew with come Saturday. It will be very difficult to get something out of a road game against Armas’ side.

If the Crew can execute the counter-attack and finish the opportunities created, they can very well find yet another result. Porter acknowledged the contrast in styles between the two sides and made executing another emphasis. For the Black & Gold, execution has been unfavorable this season but has since looked more convincing in recent games. While doing so, they too need to look at tightening the backline against a team that keeps on scoring. Columbus has conceded 34 goals on the season which doesn’t look as bad as other teams in MLS, but scoring only 21 is what needs to be the key focus. Uncertainty at the center back position is most definitely a concern for the Black & Gold.

Extending an unbeaten streak to three would be quite the feat given the hardships they Crew has faced in the past few months. It would certainly bode well for Porter and the overall morale of the team moving forward. Any sort of points on the road against a tough Red Bulls squad would put the team in a solid position for the final 11 weeks of the regular season. If playoffs are still the aspiration for Porter and the rest of the Black & Gold, the winning needs to start sooner rather than later.