If the Riverhounds want a statement win to get their season back on track, there is no better opponent to face than New York Red Bulls II.
The ‘Baby Bulls’ are a dominant team, with aggression, talent, and a clear tactical identity. It’ll take every ounce of the Hounds focus and effort to get a win tonight against the Red Bulls, who currently sit in second place in the USL Championship East, just one point off of the league’s leaders, the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
I mean, sure, the Riverhounds are coming off a confidence-building win against Atlanta United 2, a 5-0 shellacking in which Kevin Kerr and Co. were dominant from wire to wire.
But to really establish some bonafides for the 2019 season, and to prove that they are better than their underwhelming 3-2-7 record suggests, they’ll need to make a statement against a top team like NYRB II.
Tactics and Personnel
There’s nothing easier than writing a tactical preview of the Red Bulls. The team has had a consistent identity for the past three seasons – an extension of the clubs brand that emanates, top-down, from the club’s head office in Leipzig, Germany.
All of Red Bull’s top teams – RB Leipzig, RB Salzburg (in Austria), and New York Red Bulls (in New York [wink]) – play a highly aggressive high press. And they play it for 90 minutes. Every soccer team will use occasional presses, zone traps, or 2-on-1 defensive overloads here and there. The Red Bulls do it all game, all over the field. Their plan is to win back the ball high and, with your team unprepared to defend, take it right into goal.
If they fail to win the ball off you in the press, they will at least force a lot of errant long balls, or force you out of your own rhythm. It is folly to try to play your standard game plan against the Red Bulls. You will adapt or you will die.
The only wrinkle between the teams is formation. RB Leipzig were playing a 4-2-2-2 last I heard, a funky lineup that plays narrow in buildup, but is highly fluid when it wants to be. The New York Red Bulls and NYRB II abandoned that tricky setup in 2017, and now both clubs use a 4-2-3-1.
While in past years the Red Bulls were chock-full of academy graduates that had signed professional contracts, NYRB II’s starting squad is primarily built with MLS SuperDraft picks this season.
Centerback Jordan Scarlett was draft in the third round of 2017, midfielder Jared Stroud was a fourth round pick in 2018, and defender Sean Nealis was drafted second round in 2019. All are New York/New Jersey natives. Nealis is the big, physical aerial ball-winner, while Scarlett compliments him with pace and the ability to distribute the ball.
Vincent Bezecourt earned himself a spot after trialing with the Red Bulls upon his graduation from St. Francis College in Brooklyn. The 26-year-old is a clever number ten attacking mid who can do a little of everything. He has 18 matches, 4 assists, zero goals at the MLS level. His midfield partner, or late-game relief, is Ben Mines, a 19-year-old homegrown academy product who scored in his MLS debut in 2018.
The guy to keep your eye on, though, is striker Mathias Jørgensen. The Danish teenager was sold by his Danish club Odense Boldklub to Red Bull for $2.5 million. He will press and run without cease; at some point even my lungs are burning, he was working so hard. He had a goal in NYRB II’s last match against Louisville City, after Ben Mines intercepted a pass midfield and fed the breaking Dane. From turnover to goal, it took the Red Bulls four seconds to score.
The Hounds will need to up their tempo and avoid mistakes in order to beat the Red Bulls, or lump it forward and play conservatively. It will be a test, no matter what they do.
Last Week’s Lineup
Evan Louro; Janos Loebe, Sean Nealis, Jordan Scarlett, Edgardo Rito; Kyle Zajec, Chris Lema, Jared Stroud, Vincent Bezecourt, Marcus Epps; Mathias Jørgensen
Date: Saturday, June 22
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Streaming: ESPN+ with Matt Gajtka and Paul Child
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #PITvNY
Featured image of Ryan Stroud c/o Red Bulls II twitter