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(Photo by Kaitlin Marold - JSN)

Why New York Red Bulls Need to Turn it Around Fast

The New York Red Bulls have lost two straight games and are winless in their last six. Can a return to home field tomorrow night at 7:00 PM against the defending MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew get New York back on track?

In 2006, the Metrostars were renamed as the New York Red Bulls when Austrian energy drink company "Red Bull GmbH" bought the Metrostars. Before they were purchased, the Metrostars had been one of the founding franchises of Major League Soccer (MLS) where they had existed for 12 years.

The last 15 years have been Red Bulls years and the franchise has seen sustained success. New York has made the playoffs 13 times since 2006, including qualifying for the MLS playoffs every year since 2009.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLS Season, two Red Bull legends left the club. Those club legends are goalkeeping record-holder Luis Robles and Red Bull's all-time leading goal scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips. During the heyday of Robles and Wright-Phillips the Red Bulls wen to two Eastern Conference Finals and won three Supporter's Shields. It was the greatest period of success in club history, but now is the transition, where the club needs to find a new identity under new leadership.

Red Bulls Playoff Picture

As we stand here during the dog days of summer and with about three months of Major League Soccer (MLS) regular season soccer remaining, the Red Bulls are in danger of missing out on the playoffs for the first time in 12 years and the question for their fans is how did it come to this? After the Chicago Fire won and Red Bulls lost to Montreal CF over the weekend, New York has fallen two spots to 11th place in the MLS Eastern Conference.

The Red Bulls are not out of the playoff hunt by any means, because they sit just eight points behind rivals D.C. United who sit in the sixth and final playoff spot. If the Red Bulls can win on Wednesday, at home where their record this season is 4-2-2, they will move up to ninth place, ahead of Atlanta United. Still, Atlanta and Chicago have easy matches forthcoming against two poor sides in Toronto FC, who are in last place, and Inter Miami who are in 12th place, but one place ahead of Red Bulls.

The Red Bulls have 15 games left in the 2021 MLS season, but this road won't be easy. Of those 15 games, the Red Bulls need to take points from NYCFC and Columbus Crew in the next four games and that won't be easy. The Red Bulls' crosstown rivals, City FC are in second-place in the MLS Eastern Conference. The Columbus Crew are the defending Cup Champs and although they sit in eighth place, which is just three spots ahead of Red Bull, they are an experienced team who will fight you for every inch late in the season.

Reasons for Recent Skid

When you accuse a team of lacking desire, it's a serious indictment. However, that is not to say this inexperienced Red Bulls team doesn't care about winning, rather, during their last five games, the team has struggled to execute a complete defensive effort for 90 minutes, night-in and night-out. This means competing for every ball like its your last or standing up to your opponent at every point in your defensive territory.

Part of the reason the team has struggled defensively is clear: the Red Bulls sorely miss Captain and 2018 MLS Defender of the Year, Aaron Long. Long has been out with a ruptured Achilles tendon since May, when he sustained the injury against Philadelphia. Not only was Long the glue that held the backline together, the US Men's National team star is an aerial threat who can score goals primarily with his head, but also with his feet and mark his opponent's biggest offensive threat, as well which makes him the consummate defender.

On July 8 against Philadelphia Union, Long's absence was felt when the Red Bulls surrendered a late-lead and came out with a tie. English fullback, Tom Edwards, has filled in for the Red Bulls injured captain as a center-back. Edwards has been durable, showed poise and maturity on the back line but in the July 8 game against Philadelphia, he got caught up in a little bit of frustration with his opponents after the whistle and failed to rise above Sergio Santos, who tied the game up on a header and cost the Red Bulls what would have been a key victory.

Unfortunately, the Red Bulls have no choice but to play Edwards out of position. They have no center-back who can fill the void left behind by Aaron Long. Sean Nealis is reported to be on the mend but even he will not solve every issue the Bulls have on defense. They need big help and they need it fast from a tactical standpoint.

Strengths in Need of Improvement

    The Red Bulls are winless in their last six games and their last game was over a month ago. It was July 3rd in Florida, where Red Bull blasted Orlando City 2-1 in their own barn. In that cool road victory, midfielder, Christian Casseres Jr. scored a beautiful free kick late in the second half.

Striker from Brazil, Fabio scored the game-winner. Those are the kinds of performances that good teams find a way to produce and the kinds that the Red Bulls need to continue making if they hope to make the playoffs.

Caden Clark, Fabio, and Frankie Amaya are the three most talented players for the Red Bulls and if New York's Red and White are to turn things around, these three need to be at the top of their games. In soccer, players who have speed who can create space for themselves and teammates and who also possess technical ability are always valuable. 

Nani and Javier Chicharito Hernandez are two superstars, currently playing in the MLS who come to mind as uber-talented dribblers who defenders dread, however the first-place team in all of MLS, New England Revolution may have the best offensive talent in the league because they have the league's top goal-scorer, Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa who is eighth in goals this season.

The Red Bulls do not have the talent that the Revolution have right now, which can be traced back to the MLS SuperDraft. New England picked first-overall at the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. Then, in 2017 and 2019, they selected midfielders, Brandon Bye and Tajon Buchanan. Buchanan has scored four goals and three assists in 12 games. Bye has started in all 18 games the Revs have played in 2021 and both are big reasons why they are sitting in first-place. 

The only top-ten draft pick the Red Bulls have taken? Go back to 2010, and the Red Bulls selected Tony Tchani. While he made 29 appearances during 2010 for Red Bulls, he scored only one goal and was traded to Toronto FC for midfielder, Dwayne de Rosario. Eventually, the Red Bulls traded de Rosario to D.C. United for Dax McCarty, who became captain of the club in 2015 and led New York to it's second Supporter's Shield and the Eastern Conference Finals.

Growing Midfield Talent

Caden Clark should be recognized for producing goals for a Red Bulls team that ranks tied for 9th in MLS in goals-for, but the 18-year-old attacking midfielder does more than just score. Clark is a playmaker and a player who is not a striker, but someone who is in the right position to score, oftentimes. In his young career, Clark has scored volleys from outside the box, screamers from long-range and tap-ins, and there have been seven goals on his MLS resume.

While Clark's four goals this year are impressive, a player with a similar first name, Cade Cowell is 17-years-old and has scored four goals and four assists for San Jose Earthquakes, this season. So, while it is special that the Red Bulls have an unique young talent, he is far from being in a class of his own. The Red Bulls’ talented midfielder, Caden Clark missed four games in July. During that timespan, the club won a game 2-1, but went 0-1-2, overall.

Two Red Bull midfielders who have emerged as starters during Clark's absence were Christian Casseres Jr. and Wikelman Carmona. The common thread between each of these midfielders is they are young. Casseres is the oldest at 22-years-old, but Carmona and Clark are both 18, and have less than a full season of experience. When you look at some of the best teams in MLS, New England for example are led by 29-year-old playmaking machine, Carles Gil and the Philadelphia Union are led by Alejandro Bedoya, a savvy 34-year-old midfielder.

During the Red Bulls' last ten matches, Carmona has made seven starts as a central attacking midfielder, or CAM. For an 18-year-old, the Venezuelan has held up well against men. 

Against the first-place New England Revolution, Carmona intercepted a pass and had no fear releasing a stunning left-footed shot from close to 30 yards away from goal that whizzed past the goalkeeper. It was a very promising sign that his first MLS goal was of such quality. 

Casseres Jr. has been inconsistent lately but certainly his four goals have all helped the team greatly. The 21-year-old scored his most impressive goal, that was not a free kick, against Orlando City SC on July 3. That was the last time the Red Bulls won a game.

During 2021, New York has been 4-2-2 at Red Bull Arena. They should have beaten New England at home three weeks ago. A handball by Kyle Duncan led to a textbook free kick headed goal by the Revs and the Red Bulls lost the game 3-2. If you chalk that up as a win, the Red Bulls would be 5-1-2. So, they play better in Harrison than anywhere else.

The problem is these four games will not be easy. Three of these four games are against teams with winning records: NYCFC and D.C. United. Aug. 21 will be the first Hudson River Derby of the season against NYCFC. The Red Bulls lost to D.C. on the road 1-0. These are all winnable games, even if the Red Bulls have struggled in years past against their two biggest rivals, D.C. and their crosstown rivals, NYC.

It’s not like we’re getting blown away or something like that. I’ve been on teams that are far worse and we’re not a bad team, it’s just we have to put 90 minutes together, honestly, that’s really all I can say on that.” – Andrew Gutman

Big Match Against Columbus Crew

Red Bull's next game at home is the biggest game of the season. The Red Bulls are five points behind them in the standings. Being at home will be New York's best opportunity to take points from one of their competitors. Columbus has a 6-6-7 record and are coming off a 1-0 defeat to the Chicago Fire. Columbus was shut out by the Fire, while the Red Bulls nicked a goal off the Fire on the road on Aug. 8. Clark, Klimala and Casseres Jr. have scored four goals this season for Red Bull, while only two members of the Crew have scored at least four.

However, the Crew can get goals from many different places, as eight of their players have scored this season. Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayan will be one of the main focal points for Red Bull defense on Wednesday. Zelarayan leads his team with six goals and three assists, but has one goal in his last five games.

Gyasi Zardes. will be the Crew's number-one option at striker. Standing a stately 6'2" -tall,  won the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The 29-year-0ld has four goals this year, but that is nothing compared to the 12 he scored last season. In 2018, Zardes scored a career-high 19 goals and was named MLS Comeback Player of the Year. 

Zardes is goalless in his last four regular season games, but his last goal came against the MLS's best team, New England on July 3. While the Columbus offense is not strong right now, neither is the Red Bull offense. The Crew may have lost three straight games coming into Wednesday’s tilt, they have scored five goals, while the Red Bulls have scored two in their last three.

Andrew Gutman should start on Wednesday. The Indiana University product started the first five games of the season for Red Bulls at left-back. He scored his first MLS goal on April 25 at LA Galaxy.  Gutman doesn't give the ball away, he covers opposing players well, and has good instincts going forward. These are three things that can help the New York Red Bulls right the ship heading into the home-stretch of the 2021 MLS Season.

If you follow Red Bulls soccer for the past year, you know who their most exciting offensive player is. That player is the 17-year-old sensation, Caden Clark whose four goals this season is tied with Fabio and Patryk Klimala for the team-lead. Clark returned to the lineup on July 25, after missing a month due to an Appendectomy in late June. He has not registered a single goal or assist in his last five starts but beware he will be eager to get back on the scoresheet against one of Red Bulls greatest enemies, the Crew in front of the South Ward Faithful.

The Red Bulls hottest goal-scorer is Klimala. The 23-year-old who plays with the poise and swagger of a 30-year-old, has tallied three goals in his last seven matches, two of which have been penalties. The Red Bulls offense needs to get going and what better place to do it than at Red Bull Arena, where they had over 20 shots against FC Cincinnati just two weeks ago.

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Anthony graduated from Montclair State University, where he covered a variety of sports for three years. He co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on campus radio station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.