If you are an adrenaline junkie; if you like living ‘on the edge’; if you warm up for ice climbing by going bungee jumping; then New York Red Bulls II is probably the right team for you. Red Bull Junior comes to town on Saturday with a 5-3-5 record that only slightly tells the story of their season. NYRBII are second in the Eastern Conference in goals scored, with 25, while conceding just 17 goals. More importantly, the Baby Bulls (man, they have a lot of cool nicknames) have four games in which they scored four or more goals, including last week in a 4-2 win over the Charlotte Independence.
Although they may not top the league, I daresay that NYRBII may be the most difficult test that Pittsburgh will face in the Eastern Conference due to their prodigious scoring. Can the USL’s best defense stop one of the league’s best offenses?
The entire Red Bulls soccer organization, which comprises RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, and New York Red Bulls I & II, are supposed to use essentially the same tactical plan. In terms of formation, it is a 4-2-2-2, although the New York teams play more of a 3-3-3-1. These are both novel formations that you probably haven’t seen before.
The NYRBII version has three sets of lines with three players, and depending on the phase of the attack, often puts one player in between the lines: so it is a 3-1-3-3 early, then a 3-3-1-3 as the team reaches the opponent’s end. New York II are so aggressive that the formation becomes a 4-2-4 quite often. The four could just run right at and behind the defense; or four could hold up the line while two more attackers come in to open space that’s been created by the frontline attackers; or they could set up in two offset lines of three and pick their way across and around the defense with quick passes. However they come at you, it tends to be devastating.
In defense, NYRBII put on a withering, aggressive, and hard-charging high press, and they keep coming at the ball no matter what: they force long passes and turnovers. When they win it back, they come right down your throat with at least four breaking attackers, and sometimes six. It’s madness. It’s terrifying. It works. Here’s an example from last week:
That attack employs one and two-touch passes that just tears teams apart. If they can’t ping it around you, they’ll break behind you and play the ball in to pass. And it’s not just on midfield turnouts: the Red Bulls will fast play out of the back, using their wingers like streaking wide receivers and dropping long bombs to open players.
One tactic you might see Bob Lilley and the hounds employ to stop New York is to simply not allow them to get out on the run by clogging the midfield. The Hounds could use a very narrow 4-2-3-1, with five midfielders suffocating the life out of the middle of the field, while choosing to cede the wings to their opponent and forcing New York to try to fire off crosses. Another possibility is to be even * more * defensive than normal: a 5-4-1 formation with nine men sitting deep, and a faint hope of scoring on the counterattack or on a set piece. It’s an ugly way to play, but it could work. The last possibility is to fight fire with fire and attack as well. If NYRBII are shooting blanks and a team gets the ball and hits them back fast, they often get a free run all the way to the opponents box in a 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 situation. Bethlehem and ATL2 both scored three goals against the Red Bulls to earn wins. The most successful teams against New York have out-aggressive-d the aggressors.
NYRB have the deepest and most accomplished academy in MLS today. Matt Miazga was a breakout star in 2015 and 2016 for the club, and so they sold him on to Chelsea FC for a cool $5.8 million, the third-highest amount ever in MLS history. The current NYRB senior squad has no fewer than eight Red Bull Academy players on the current roster, including 19-year-old USMNT phenom Tyler Adams. Suffice it to say that NYRBII is stacked with talented kids, too.
Forwards Amando Moreno, Ben Mines, and Brian White are all young academy products with prodigious talent. White’s a two-footed center forward with some physical size and a burst of late speed, while Moreno is a dribbly technical player with pace. Mines is the best of the three according to the organization, as he was called up to the senior team first, on March 10th this year, and scored his first MLS goal in that match.
Midfielder Andrew Tinari is a diminutive midfield attacker with phenomenal passing touch. In 12 games this year he has 43 chances created, while the player with next most chances-created on NYRBII has just 13. For comparison, the Riverhounds leader, Kevin Kerr, has 29 chances created. Tinari came to NYRBII after graduating in 2016 from Columbia University. Another midfield maestro for New York is Jared Stroud, a 2018 MLS SuperDraft pick for NYRB, who has 5 assists this season. All of the Bulls I’ve mentioned so far are under the age of 22. Ben Mines is just 18.
The defense is probably going to include Niko De Vera and Kevin Politz. A few other defenders like Ethan Kutler and Hassan Ndam were with the NYRB senior team for their home match against Seattle this past Wednesday. Kutler got the start and went all 90 minutes, while Ndam was an unused sub. The team filled in last week with Wahab Akwei and Jordan Bailon, both getting their first starts. Bailon was quite impressive. Their defense is fine, but due to their style of play, the defenders are sometimes left exposed. They seem to hold up pretty well, considering.
The Red Bulls are hot right now, having won three games in a row. All those games happened at home, though, and the Baby Bulls have zero road wins this season. In addition, they have a midweek game coming up on Wednesday against Bethlehem Steel, and a match next Sunday, June 24, so we may see some squad rotation at Highmark Stadium in order to keep some regular starters fresh through this busy week.