MLS 2019: DC United vs New York Red Bulls – tactical analysis
MLS 2019 season is at a crucial stage as the teams fight for the playoffs spots. Of course, no one wants to fall out now, especially since the positions are tight in both Conferences. Right before the big derby weekend, DC United and New York Red Bulls have met. The encounter ended with a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls.
Ben Olsen’s team isn’t in good shape, the previous nine games, they only recorded two wins whilst suffering four losses. The issue is evident as they scored an average 1.1 goal per games which is below their season average goal scoring rate (1.3). However, the bigger problem is whilst they scored just above a goal per game ratio, they conceded 15 goals during the last nine games which are an average 1.67 goals per game.
Meanwhile, NYRB are also in bad form as they recorded three defeats in their last six games, although one of these was against Los Angeles FC.
DC United’s formation fluctuate mostly between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, this time, Ben Olsen deployed 4-4-2 which is the same that he used against Vancouver in the previous fixture. There were only two changes in the team selection. Segura got benched and Kamara made it to the starting XI. He employed next to Rooney which means Arriola moved out to fill Segura’s position in the right-wing.
New York Red Bulls formation was something like 4-3-1-2, instead of the usual 4-2-3-1 shape. Moreover, Chris Armas also made three changes in personnel. Firstly, Murillo returned to the right full-back position, therefore Buckmaster moved to the left-wing and Lawrence started on the bench. Secondly, Tarek replaced Parker in the middle of the defence. Lastly, Barlow played in the centre-forward position instead of White.
This analysis has to start with the fact that New York Red Bulls’ goal was clear from the beginning. They started the game in an intense manner and they were able, instantly, to pin back the opponents to their half, put DC United’s defence and pressure right away. There were some corner situations in the opening minutes and they were even able to keep the ball in the final third as they pressed the thrown-ins or other situations.
One of the recurring patterns in New York Red Bulls’ play was the fact that they kind of overloaded the wings. Usually, the left-back, Buckmaster, or a midfielder was on the left-wing. They tried to create crossing opportunity in the wing to play the ball to the box where the teammates were waiting for it. Namely, Barlow and Royer, therefore, Royer as opposed to the general winger positioning, rather played as another striker in this game.
This means the three midfielders often moved out wide to help the wing play. They offered passing options, created combinations – mostly quick one-twos – and also provided a safety net in case of losing the ball. Once NYRB lost the ball, the midfielders were in a great position to immediately recover it.
In here, for example, Buckmaster on the ball against two DC United’s defenders. He lost the ball but Rzatkowski intercepted the long ball.
Nevertheless, they were not effective. Despite the wing-oriented play, most of the positional attacks occurred from the central zones. Although there were occasions which showed more potential. In the image below, we may see two options for NYRB. As the ball near players of DC United shifted to the ball zone to cover the space, it created a gap in between the second line that could fill by the guests.
The second option was to pass to the wing, targeting Buckmaster’s run. Since DC United tends to occupy narrow, it created more space in the wing, and on this occasion, Royer dropped in the half-space which pulled out the opposition right-back, therefore, Buckmaster could run into the vacated space.
The guests are usually really fast in transitioning into the attack and it was evident in this game too. With the speedy attacks and counter-attacks that they released, they were able to force the opponent back, although NYRB could not create really big threats through their counter-attacks as DC United were able to fall back and protect the space.
They used two ways to progress up the pitch after winning the ball back. One was the air balls. In the example below, NYRB were able to counter-attack in spite of DC’s immediate counter-press. With the two attackers, Royer and Barlow, there were always targets upfront who could receive long air balls. It allowed the guests to escape the opponent’s pressure.
Another scenario was to use quick passes to progress up the pitch. In here, Royer passes back quickly to Rzatkowski thus he could push forward while Rzatkowski brings up the ball. Royer targeted the half-space with his run which made the DC players more narrow thus create more space for Rzatkowski in the wing.
DC United’s failed plan
The basic idea behind their attacking plan was to play the ball up with air ball from the goalkeeper and win it, then launch a quick attack. It was clear that Rooney’s role was to receive the ball after the aerial duel. As the image highlights below, one player drops to duel for the ball, pull out a defender and Rooney targeting the vacated space.
However, they struggled to execute this plan as NYRB’s defence handled these situations well. For example, in the situation above, DC United won the aerial duel but Murillo collected the headed ball.
Furthermore, in counter-attacks, Rooney was tasked with dropping deep to receive the ball and launch a long ball towards the speedy attackers. Since he lacks the speed, as he is ageing, but still has impressive technical abilities to help the team to create those attacks, he often dropped deep during the defensive phase, in order to immediately receive the ball once they won it back, thus he quickly initiated a counter-attack. This dropping movement is evident in his overall positioning.
In here, for example, he helped the midfielders to outplay the opposition press whilst the attackers provided targets by occupying high. Three or four players threatening with a run in behind the opposition defence, Rooney has options to pass a long ball.
They were able to create some promising attacks, but in general, they lacked quality scoring chances. Only produced a 1.3 xG (expected goal). Moreover, from counter-attacks, they only had one opportunity which compared to the guests (seven), awful.
This game was quite out of ordinary since both teams lost a player due to red card in the first half. Of course, this hugely affected the game, although DC United did not change tactically. They stuck to the 4-4-2/4-4-1 formation but losing Rooney was a huge disaster which affected their play due to the fact that he had an important role (mentioned above).
On the other hand, NYRB changed their formation for the second half. They switched from 4-diamond-2 to a flat midfield line thus more focused on their defence and the counter-attacks. The latter led to their second goals.
This clash was definitely a poor display form both teams but it could be reasonable since Chris Armas’ side are ahead of the New York derby and DC United will also have an important game in the upcoming weekend against Philadelphia Union.
With this victory, New York Red Bulls are fourth at Eastern Conference and have a two point advantage ahead of DC United, however, both sides need to improve if they have serious goals in MLS playoffs.