Remember last week when predicting LA Galaxy’s starting eleven and style was really easy? This week is going to be a lot like that — except the exact opposite.
The New York Red Bulls shocked the footballing world (okay, slight exaggeration) last Tuesday when they traveled down to Tijuana and knocked off the Xolos at Estadio Caliente in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals. If the Red Bulls can make that lead stand up in Tuesday’s return leg at Red Bull Arena, they’ll be through to the CCL semifinal in impressive fashion.
So you’d have to excuse the Red Bulls if they seem a little preoccupied on Saturday, and don’t be at all surprised if Jesse Marsch’s lineup is also crafted with at least one eye cast toward Tuesday. After playing extensive minutes midweek and being expected to do so again in just three days’ time, it seems unlikely that Marsch will include the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams, Daniel Royer, Alex Muyl, Tim Parker, Aaron Long, Michael Murillo, or Kemar Lawrence in his starting lineup on Saturday. A small handful of those guys may play, but don’t expect to see many of them.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t talent available to Marsch. As a result of a yellow card picked up against the Xolos on Tuesday, Sean Davis won’t be eligible for the second leg, meaning he will likely be in the team for the Red Bulls. Another wild card is Kaku, the highly-touted DP attacking midfielder, who did not appear for the Red Bulls in Tijuana. It’s possible Marsch won’t want to play Kaku 90 minutes in anticipation of his Tuesday’s game (especially with Davis already out for the midweek match), but it’s at least equally possible that Marsch plans to trot out Kaku for a full appearance against the Timbers and to have him on the bench against Tijuana.
So, yeah, there’s not a ton of certainty in the Marsch’s selections for Saturday. Anyway, let’s take a crack at the Red Bulls’ lineup:
That took a substantial amount of creativity and is virtually guaranteed to be wrong, likely in multiple respects.
Regardless of who the Red Bulls throw out there on Saturday, however, they’re very likely to look a lot like the Red Bulls. No team in MLS vertically integrates their academy, USL affiliate, and first team as well as the Red Bulls. As a result, even when missing multiple starters the Red Bulls tend to show more or less the same philosophy.
The Timbers have recent experience with this. Despite playing a very second-choice lineup in Portland last fall during a tight turnaround, the Red Bulls still pressed the Timbers hard, had more than their share of the ball, and outshot Caleb Porter’s side in a valiant, but ultimately losing effort at Providence Park. Even more recently, the Red Bulls rolled out a lineup of Red Bulls II and Academy players against the Timbers in preseason. It was a rough go for the Red Bulls (who lost 4-1 with their only goal coming by way of Vytas’ charity) in light of the gulf of talent on the field, but they still had spells of the game in which they punched above their weight because they were able to be disruptive with their press.
So regardless who Jesse Marsch trots out on Saturday, expect to see New York press high and hard. Especially when the Timbers circulate the ball wide along the backline either to a fullback or to a centerback pushed out near the touchline, expect the Red Bulls to trigger their press and try to ambush the next pass either into midfield or back across the backline. This could pose considerable danger for the Timbers in light of the instability they have on the backline and defensive midfield as a result of the various absences they have in those positions.
But make no mistake: If the Red Bulls rotate their squad as much as seems likely, this is a game the Timbers should be looking to win. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to expect Jesse Marsch’s team to be a pushover. They very rarely are.