After an impressive come-from-behind victory last Saturday against Trillium Cup rivals Toronto FC, the Columbus crew hit the road to face the New York Red Bulls this Sunday. The Red Bulls are another Eastern Conference team that has gotten off to a fast start in 2022.
Columbus head coach Caleb Porter emphasized that this will be his side’s biggest challenge so far this season. Stylistically, the Crew and New York are very different teams which will provide an interesting backdrop for this match. Despite the Red Bulls losing last week, New York and Columbus both look to be among two of the best sides in the Eastern Conference so far in 2022, making this an important early-season showdown for each side.
Here’s what you can expect from the game on Sunday, and a look into what the Crew needs to do to get the team’s first road victory of the year.
New York Red Bulls at a Glance:
Record: 2-0-1, 6 points
League Form: L-W-W
Leading Scorer: Lewis Morgan (3)
Assist Leader: Patryk Klimala (3)
Player to Watch: Lewis Morgan
In one of the bigger intraleague transactions this offseason, the Red Bulls acquired the 25-year-old Scotsman from Inter Miami for $1.2 million in allocation money. Morgan gotten off to a flying start in his new surroundings, including a hat trick against Toronto FC earlier this season.
In his press conference this week, Porter mentioned how impressed he has been with Morgan so far in 2022 and emphasized his ability to provide width for New York thanks to his ability to play on both the left and the right wings. Morgan also provides the ability for RBNY to stretch defenses by making threatening runs in behind the backline. This ability is accentuated for the Red Bulls thanks to their direct playing style and their emphasis on attacking transition. The Crew backline will need to focus on Morgan and limit his ability to get in behind them in order to take three points from New York.
How New York Red Bulls play:
After sneaking into the MLS Cup playoffs last year ahead of the Black & Gold, the Red Bulls have significantly improved in their second full year under manager Gerhard Struber. After coming from English Championship side Barnsley FC, Struber has fit right into the Red Bull Football Group strategy and has successfully adapted his team to be effective in the MLS.
New York’s emphasis is on being a difficult side for their opponents to face. They do this in a number of ways but most notably on the defensive side of things. The Red Bulls are known for their intense defensive pressure, including pressing high up the field in an effort to win the ball back close to their opponent's goal. In addition, this often makes their opponents uncomfortable in possession and can knock possession-based opponents (like the Crew) out of their passing rhythm.
When the Red Bulls are in possession, they often look to move the ball towards their opponent's goal as quickly and directly as possible. The pressure that this can put their opponents under can cause all sorts of mistakes and discomfort in the backline.
Where New York really shines is in both attacking and defensive transition moments. When the Red Bulls lose possession, you will often see them quickly counter-press their opponents. This means that they look to quickly apply pressure and win the ball back before their opponents can establish possession and get into good attacking positions. As mentioned, when New York wins the ball back in offensive transition, the team will look to counter attack as quickly as possible before the opponents can get into their usual defensive shape.
The emphasis and quality that the Red Bulls possess in these transition moments make them one of the hardest sides in the league to play against and have led them to be one of the most continuously successful sides in MLS, despite their low payroll.
How the Crew can win:
The Crew will look to continue the team’s hot start before the looming international break. Saturday is a chance for the Black & Gold to send a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference and the MLS in general about their intent for the 2022 campaign. A win for Columbus could propel the team to the top of the league as well as signify to the fanbase that they are indeed capable of winning on the road this campaign.
The Crew has allowed four goals this season and all four have either been directly off of set pieces, or as a direct consequence of a set piece. Columbus fans will well remember the set piece debacle that kept the Crew from defeating the San Jose Earthquakes on the road just a few short weeks ago. In addition, Toronto’s lone goal last week was directly after a set piece that the Crew failed to clear.
This has set a worrying trend for the Black & Gold in 2022. The good news is that the Crew has yet to give up a goal from the run of play or really be threatened in many other ways. Thus, if Columbus can clean up the set piece defending, the team will be a very tough team to score against.
Traditionally, the Red Bulls have been a very effective side on attacking set pieces and will be chomping at the bit with the chance to do some damage in this phase of the game against the Black & Golf on Sunday. Thus, the Crew will need to do a good job executing in this phase to give themselves the best chance at three points in this match.
Porter spoke at length this week about the need for his side to be ready to handle all of the things that the Red Bulls do well in order to take three points from this match. Porter emphasized the “fight” New York will bring to the field including winning 50/50 duels, second balls and competing with the physical nature of this Red Bulls team. Porter has often said that his teams need to “win the fight, in order to win the match” and the Crew will be given a great chance to prove that it can do both in this match. If Columbus is able to win said fight, it will effectively limit the Red Bulls from being able to do most of the things they want to do in this match.
Lastly, the Crew needs to work hard to control the tempo of the game. Another emphasis from Porter in his pre-match press conference, Columbus and the Red Bulls prefer to play the game at very different speeds. As discussed, New York prefers to play at a high tempo, chaotic and fervent pace. Meanwhile, the Black & Gold prefer to play at a bit slower pace, with an emphasis on possession, moving the ball through the thirds of the field and limiting their opponents' ability to transition.
Due to the exaggerated difference in each team’s preferred style, whoever is able to control the tempo and have the match played on their terms will have a huge leg up in this match. In order to do this, look for the Black & Gold to try and dominate possession from the first minute onward. In addition, don’t be surprised if the Crew look to be playing at a bit slower, more technical pace in this match. Doing so will allow them to control the tempo and make Red Bull uncomfortable. If Columbus is able to control the tempo of the match, they will feel really good about their chances at staying atop the Eastern Conference.