As Major League Soccer teams head into Round 2 of the MLS is Back Tournament, a fierce matchup between Columbus Crew SC and New York Red Bulls is on showcase. The winner will guarantee themselves a spot in the knockout stage of the tournament, so everything is on the line in Thursday nights matchup.
The Crew is coming off of a cruising 4-0 victory against Hell is Real rivals FC Cincinnati while the Red Bulls managed to scrape together a 1-0 victory themselves versus a struggling Atlanta United side. Slowly but surely, Group E of the tournament is beginning to take shape with the losers of the last two respected games clashing on Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, the class of Group E (so far) are slated for an all-important bout. Let’s take a look at the next opponent for the Black & Gold.
New York Red Bulls at a glance:
League Form: W-D-W
Tournament Standing: Second place (3 points, +1 Goal Differential)
Leading Scorer: T-5 (Christian Casseres Jr., Kyle Duncan, Florian Valot, Kaku, Daniel Royer - 1)
Assist Leader: T-2 (Florian Valot, Kyle Duncan - 2)
Player to watch: Alejandro Romero
“Kaku” is the Red Bulls 25-year-old playmaker from Paraguay. A left-footed midfielder, Kaku has a knack for playing wonderful through balls, dribbling and can even hit the occasional long shot. He was crucial in setting up New York’s only goal in Game 1, finding Valot on a long, lofted through ball only to be finished by Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Kaku is the heart and soul of the Red Bulls’ midfield, as well as being able to make solid defensive contributions as well. The Black & Gold will have their hands full with trying to keep him in check.
How they play:
Head coach Chris Armas and the Red Bulls enjoy playing a pressing, counter-pressing style that has long been the culture of the club and has led the team to much success. New York’s 4-2-2-2 formation is evidence of this, as its balance, structure and width are on display. This allows for a team that can be potentially very dangerous in the Black & Gold’s final third. Armas is very demanding, so except Thursday’s game to be feisty.
A heavy emphasis will be on wingers Valot and Alejandro Romero to hug the touchline in order to stretch out the midfield of the Crew and find open options in their own midfield. The attacking players of the Red Bulls, in addition, will force the Columbus defense into important one-on-one matchups in defense. With defender Vito Wormgoor expected to miss the rest of the tournament, this is where fill-in Homegrown player Aboubacar Keita will need to display confidence and poise.
How the Crew win:
A matchup between two teams vying for first place in the group and a place in the tournaments knockout round will be delicious, especially for the neutrals tuning in. Only two sides have booked their place in to the latter stage of the tournament, Orlando City SC and the Philadelphia Union, and if a draw is avoided in Thursday’s matchup, one of the Crew or the Red Bulls can make it three.
With Atlanta looking a shell of themselves without playmaking striker and former MLS MVP Josef Martinez, the early round of games suggest it will come down to the two teams at the top of the group. The Black & Gold will win their matchup against New York if they can simply win the battle in the middle of the park. The game will be won in midfield, coming down to the playmaking of the Crew against the balance and options of the Red Bulls. If Columbus can make things messy in midfield against their longtime Eastern Conference rivals, it will be a long night for Armas and company.
It’s important that the Crew doesn’t take the Red Bulls lightly, and they shouldn’t given the mentality head coach Caleb Porter has brought to Orlando and the strong lineup that the Black & Gold possess. However, the Crew needs only one more result, a victory, to see themselves one step closer to a major trophy in the 2020 season.