2016 ASA PREVIEW: NEW YORK RED BULLS / by Harrison Crow

PPG: Points per game (PG), Poss: possession percentage, TSR: Total Shot Ratio, GF: goals PG, xGF: expected goals PG, GA: goals against PG, xGA: expected goals against PG, GD: goal differential PG, xGD: expected goal differential PG, Touch %: percentage of total team touches while on the field, Duels Won: failed tackle against, successful dribble, aerial 50/50 won, xAssists: expected assists per 90, xGoals: expected goals per 90.

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

The Red Bulls have consistently been a team stuck in disarray and chaos. They have a front office that has been raked over the coals time and again for choices that were just plain bewildering. Take all of that and couple it with a foreign ownership group/organization that seemingly feels detatched all the time. Yet there has probably been no better period in the Red Bulls 20-year history. With two Supporter Shields in three seasons and a team that position for position is ready to compete for another, things could get exciting, folks.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves...

2015 In Review

Obviously 2015 didn’t exactly start out as planned. A riot nearly broke out at the town hall meeting focused hotly around the firing of head coach Mike Petke. He had been a rare example of legacy associated with a club consistently in search of an identity. He never cams across as a tactical genius but he dealt well with personalities and seemed to grasp how to mesh talent together and get results, a rare gift for a young coach in a market with high expectations and a history of disappointing results.

Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch collectively turned the page on that successful Petke era and built a team around a new philosophy and tactics. These new methods accentuated their underrated players’ talent.

They came out of the gates ballin’, throwing up 13 points in 7 matches. They came back down to earth through the middle part of the season but ended strongly with 21 points in 10 matches and went into the playoffs the favorite with a 31% probability to win the MLS Cup.

They dispatched DC United easily in the Conference Semi-Finals but fell to Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference in a disappointing end to a season that seemed destined to end their 19 year drought without an MLS Cup. That said, few could have predicted the extent of sustainable success built in 2015.

Goalkeeper and Defense

Looking at the 2015 version of Luis Robles, he was good. Maybe that’s even underselling it a bit, but our expected goal numbers weren’t favorable towards him and that’s a bit of a... well, at least a yellow flag and enough for me to question his Goalkeeper of the Year award. But while he didn’t have the counting numbers, you could point out his claim success on crosses was 100 percent and showed confidence in making clearances as attempts came into his box.

Robles’ numbers last year don’t point towards regression, positive or negative, in his performance for this coming season but I expect that he’s going to see an increase in volume of shots taken at his goal. Matt Miazga being sold off is not just a bit disappointing from a fan perspective but his aerial prowess and all around skills made him a top-10 central defender on my list of centrebacks.

If it wasn’t disconcerting enough that Miazga gone, Damien Perrinelle will start the season on the injured list. Ronald Zubar will step in his place as the Ghanian Gideon Baah will replace the shoes left behind by Maizga. The drop off is certain but the extent is unknown and considering that the defense stems as a whole team approach it might not be as dramatic as is thought by some.

Oh, and this is your “Kemar Lawrence is great... rah rah rah”, sentence. I’m not on the “bandwagon” per se but I see his value which according to Abed is “..the nicest thing anyone’s ever said...” So there is that.

Midfield

Look, let me take a moment to call myself out on something. I am the most hyperbolic. I know it and I try to curtail that as best as I can. But I think I’m safe in saying that the New York Red Bulls has one of the top midfields in Major League Soccer. It’s not on single player but the whole collection of individuals that makes this such a strong and formidable team.

Dax McCarty is so perpetually over-hyped and underrated to the point that I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen it. I mean, I’ve seen it with a ton of different individuals but I never knew what to call it until last year I called it the “McCarty rule”.  This year he took it to a new level and instead of just being really good and underrated, under the new tactics and methods of Marsch he became a difference maker.

Sacha Kljestan and the story of expected assists is one that probably goes unnoticed by many. But the reality is that most, including myself, had little idea what MLS was getting last year when they made the deal with Montreal for the opportunity to sign him. But he’s been incredible while most people turn their attention to Benny Feilhaber getting the USMNT shaft, it’s arguable that Kljestan has probably done more.

blah blah blah regression, blah blah blah Mike Grella. The end.

*Does a quick look up of Mike Grella in the dictionary* See also: Lamar Neagle... “What the ...?!”

“Hey, Mike Grella ... Dominic Oduro just called <finish joke here>...”

Hahahaha... okay, okay, okay I got this one last one.

*Ring* *Ring* *Ring* “Is this Mike Grella?” “No, this is Gyasi Zardes

Do you get what I’m going for here? Grella for his price tag is great, but I wouldn’t expect him to continue to score at the rate that he did last year or the create the same goals.

Lloyd Sam is a great creator and someone that works extremely well with Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. I imagine he’s going to be in the top-20 for the league with creation numbers again. But I’ve had some sources tell me he’s been shopped around and I’m not certain that he’ll be with the club the whole season. The real question is whether or not Gonzalo Verón can step into his place should that be the case and if I was a Red Bull fan, that would worry me.

Lastly, I just talk to you about how happy I am that Felipe Martins finally has a home and is appreciated. It’s like seeing a friend that for years dated the same type of girl that, every time, you found annoying. But wait... finally, he finds himself with that one girl he dated his first year in college but the timing just was never right. Now the timing is right and he needs to put a ring on it. That’s Felipe and that’s Marsch. Felipe and Jesse should get married.

As for the rest of the... rest, here are the obligatory mentions for Shaun Wright-Phillips and Verón. Both of which are talented wingers and will most certainly impact the club in some way. The question really is in what way.

Verón hasn’t made his way into the first team. I don’t know if that was in the 300 page plan or not but it seems odd given the investment. He’s still only 26 and with a full season ahead of him after integrating with the club he could take a step forward.

SWP on the other hand has seen many minutes in his day and is reaching an age that it’s fair to question what degree of impact he’s going to have over a full season with all the strain the travel will put on his body. But... he should be in position to put forth big minute numbers and I can’t think of many MLS teams that would mind having him come off the bench.

Forwards

Getting to the guys who put the ball in the back of the net, I don’t have a lot of words to relate or express how I feel towards Bradley Wright-Phillips. But there are some numbers so, let’s try to use those.

Over the last two seasons, BWP has managed to accumulate over 20 expected goals and ranked seventh in unassisted shot percentage for those with over ten goals. He takes a ton of shots and probably never met one that he didn’t like, but the high volume in which it’s provided to him from just about every angel of the midfield means that he’s going to create a lot of chances for goals.

So... yeah, he’s like... yeah, he’s like good.

Here is where I steal a page from someone else’s playbook. Anatole Abang could be an immense talent, and he’s a top-20 duel winner for those at forward on per 90 ratio. He’s a physical beast with strength, hops and at least average speed. He’s all of twenty years old with decent technical ability that has plenty of helium in him.

Coach

Jesse Marsch came in and instituted a brand new system in under six months. Which, given the fact they got to the playoffs even in a weaker conference, is pretty remarkable. Add to it that he won the Supporter’s Shield and nearly reached a second ever MLS Cup berth in the club’s twenty year history. These things are kind of tough to have done in the first year because it makes the following years all the more difficult and builds unrealistic expectations among the supporters.

I’m not going to say that Marsch can’t reach the next stage of accomplishments, I think it’s well within his wheelhouse, it’s just a matter of appreciating this magnificent thing that has happened unexpectedly.

The emergence of American coaches like Petke, Ben Olsen, Jason Kreis, Caleb Porter, Jay Heaps and Peter Vermes have been fun and showed a lot of promise for the future of US coaching. Marsch has been marching up to join those ranks.

It’s premature to talk about any US National team opportunity but he fits the mold behind what many pundits look for in a coach. Someone that is willing to adapt, play an upbeat style, unafraid to take chances and understanding how to get the most out of a player. There is also the fact that he plays individuals where their attributes and traits are best put in a place to succeed... which is kind of more than what you can say about the man who presently holds the position.

2016 Projections

It’s really hard to believe that they don’t qualify for the Playoffs. The Eastern Conference is really weak and with this New York club that has such strong roster from top to bottom--it would be shocking at bare minimum.

CONCACAF Champions League will hit Harrison, NJ this August and while all the MLS teams are eliminated from the 2015 tournament it should be exciting to see how Marsch does against international competition with this squad in 2016.

There is no reason to see A) this team fail to make the playoffs and B) not win their CCL group. Outside of that, another shield, USOC win or the MLS Cup is gravy. They have the depth and talent to take any or, maybe unreasonably, all of the “big three” trophies.