Tactical Breakdown: New York Red Bulls

The rut is real, but don’t count out the New York Red Bulls just yet.

Dropping a 3-1 result to a less-than-stellar LA Galaxy side saw the Red Bulls lose at home for the first time in the regular season since April 2016, bringing their current losing streak to three.

But if nothing else, the Red Bulls have proved to be a streaky side in 2017. Take a look at their early season results, in order: a pair of wins, a four-match winless streak, a three-match winning streak, followed by their current slump.

Even still, the Red Bulls should be considered a dangerous side heading into Friday’s match in New Jersey. After all, the Red Bulls stumbled out of the gates with a 1-6-0 start in 2016 and still managed to defend their Eastern Conference regular season title.

Head coach Jesse Marsch shouldered the brunt of the blame for his side’s lackluster performance against the Galaxy and will surely be spending plenty of time in the film room breaking down just how to get his side back on track.

Formation – 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2

RBNY has tinkered with a few different looks in 2017, similar to their approach the year prior.

Heading into the 2016 campaign, Marsch looked to deploy a two-forward formation with Bradley Wright-Phillips and Gonzalo Veron operating up top. The experiment was short-lived as Veron picked up an early season injury, and the team reverted to their more comfortable 4-2-3-1 set up.

This season, the Red Bulls have once more tried to move to a 4-2-2-2, but have again run into their fair share of problems. Taking Sacha Kljestan (who recorded a league-high 20 assists the season prior) out of his role as the team’s #10 coupled with the absence of Dax McCarty (traded to Chicago Fire) has seen the Red Bulls attack stall; only D.C. United have scored fewer goals in the Eastern Conference.

It remains to be seen just how Marsch will play things come Friday night, but a move to the 4-2-3-1 would seem to make the most sense. With the team needing a bounce back performance, Marsch may well go back to the tried-and-true formation that has worked well in past years.

Key Player – Sacha Kljestan

After a successful stay with Belgian side Anderlecht, the USA international has been one of the more potent attacking threats in MLS since signing with the Red Bulls in 2015, bagging 34 assists in his last two seasons. Marsch’s move to push Kljestan into a more creative, playmaking role initially turned some heads, but the positional switch proved to be a stroke of genius.

It’s been a slow go for Kljestan in 2017 as the Seton Hall product has not been nearly as effective. However, his ability to find pockets of space in the final third and deliver the final ball could still prove to be a difference maker on Friday night. With the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips leading the line, the Reds will look to neutralize Kljestan’s influence on the match.

Coach’s Quotebook

Greg Vanney: “They’re a dangerous team, a good team. The continuity of their team is a little bit different when you lose somebody like Dax. He’s an important person within the group not just because he’s a good player, but because he impacts the guys around him.

“When it comes down to the end, I’m certain that somewhere in the pack of teams fighting for the Eastern Conference, they’ll be there.”