The Columbus Crew left Toronto FC with a point after a second half goal from left back Jimmy Medranda brought the Black & Gold back level against their Trillium Cup rivals. This week, Columbus travels to Harrison, New Jersey to take on another Eastern Conference rival in the New York Red Bull.
New York presents an interesting early season challenge for the Crew. Head Wilfried Nancy said in his pre-match press conference, “I enjoy playing Red Bull” and “they will present a good challenge for us to see where we’re at.”
Here’s everything you need for this Saturday’s matchup.
New York Red Bulls at a Glance:
Record: 0-1-2, 2 points
League Form: L-D-D
Leading Scorer: Andres Reyes (1)
Assist Leader: John Tolkin (1)
Player to Watch: Frankie Amaya
The former No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick has flourished since joining the Red Bulls in 2021. After being selected by Cincinnati, Amaya has become a regular figure in the New York midfield. While his statistical production isn’t great (two goals and four assists), Amaya is a great fit for the Red Bull system and is an important piece in the midfield. Amaya is often the guy who makes the pass that breaks down opponents, before an assist or goal.
In addition to his vision in the final third, Amaya is adept at winning first and second balls to help New York win possession back. Amaya is also a really good defensive presser, which helps his team win the ball back quickly, a huge part of the Red Bulls’ tactical gameplan. While he may not stick out to the naked eye on Saturday, it’s likely that Amaya will be at the heart of some of Red Bull’s best moments.
How New York Red Bull play:
“They run, and run, and run, and run,” said Nancy this week in describing the Red Bulls’ style. “They are very intense and want to play in transition” and “they want to create a chaotic game.”
Nancy is dead on. For years, New York has had a similar blueprint on the field. The Red Bulls are known in the MLS and throughout the world for their high-intensity playing style. New York almost prefers not to have the ball, and instead applies pressure on the opponents in possession to make them uncomfortable and cause mistakes. They also look to create and maximize attacking chances in transition.
When they do have the ball, the Red Bulls look to attack as directly as possible in an effort to catch their opponents out of possession or put them in uncomfortable 1 v. 1 scenarios. New York is always a fixture in the Major League Soccer playoff picture as the team’s style of play is one that enables them to be competitive in almost every match, no matter who is on the field for them.
How the Crew can win:
Nancy spoke at length about how eager he is to see how his team handles playing the Red Bulls on Saturday. He indicated that it will be a great test to see where the Black & Gold stack up and how they are progressing with his tactical concepts. Indeed, much of Columbus’ tactical structure will be put to the test against New York on Saturday. Nancy pointed out that the Crew will need to match the Red Bulls’ intensity in terms of work rate and competitiveness on Saturday in order to be successful. The Black & Gold will need to work very hard to handle New York’s direct play which will result in 50/50 challenges that Columbus must win the team’s fair share of in order to keep the Red Bulls at bay.
Nancy also emphasized that his team needs to “handle the (New York) pressure” and “stay composed on the ball.” Nancy added that he wants the Crew to “be brave” in possession. What he means by this is that the Black & Gold will need to be brave in order to attract the Red Bulls’ pressure to the ball, and then execute to break that pressure with possession. If Columbus starts to play long 50/50 balls, it will result in a game that’s wide-open and very transitional, which will favor New York. Instead, the Crew needs to handle the Red Bulls pressure by limiting mistakes and turnovers, and then exploit the space that this pressure will leave in behind. If the Black & Gold can do this, then they will have the upper hand in Saturday’s matchup.