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Know Your Enemy: New York Red Bulls – Meeting the First – Part Two, Game Film Review and Points of Interest

The second half of the latest installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, the New York Red Bulls, hitting the game film for strengths and weaknesses

New York have celebrated plenty of goals, hopefully not come Saturday
New York have celebrated plenty of goals, hopefully not come Saturday
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Part One, looking over their lineup and form, was posted yesterday

The Tactics

Diverting from the usual manner of focusing on a single player who drives the opponent's attack, this week two players will feature: Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan.

Wright-Phillips is a poacher of the highest order. His 27 goals last season tied the mark for most ever in a calendar year. With ten goals to his name through 22 matches, he is unlikely to reach those same heights this season, but that is not to say he has not been as influential.

The loss of Thierry Henry and his underrated set-up play necessitated changes in the style of the side. Bradley has thus stepped up his interplay game, racking up six assists, treble his amount from 2014.

He is as likely to drop off the play, making himself an option in the midfield, or drift wide to make space and interact with New York's wingers, as he is to lead the line as a traditional striker. He even featured in a match or two on the left of the attacking midfield three.

And with his older brother Shaun now at the club, one can imagine a nearly-preternatural understanding with his new teammate. The two combined twice against Philadelphia, winning a penalty kick when Bradley laid off to Shaun, and then scoring a goal themselves when Shaun twisted up Ray Gaddis and picked out his little brother for a redirection from the edge of the six:

That is a classic Bradley Wright-Phillips goal, lurking just off the defenders to get that predatory touch.

The other player of concern, Kljestan, was a highly-sought-after target in the off-season, eventually finding himself in New York with the Red Bulls.

With four goals and six assists, his numbers do not jump off the page – mirroring the production level of fellow returnee Jozy Altidore – but what makes Kljestan such a force is his brilliance in knowing when and where to be.

He is a roamer. Operating in the attacking midfield position, he can sit deep and pass, or make timely runs, either up the middle, or shading out wide to either flank.

That he is capable of strikes such as this, against Orlando, is an added bonus:

His tireless running is a vital piece of New York's press, placing immediate pressure on the ball as soon as it leaves the goalkeeper's hands.

Toronto wilted under the pressure of Kansas City last weekend, so it remains to be seen how they will adapt for New York's energy. The key is moving those initial balls quickly, playing past that pressure. Vanney himself has said that after getting burned by quick ball movement, the opponent will soften their press, lest they be beat again. TFC needs to start sharply; be prepared.

Mike Grella and Lloyd Sam are a key part of that pressure, moving in from their wide positions to attack the ball, but they are also adept at using width.

Grella's ball in from the left led to Sam's goal against Montreal last Wednesday, while Kemar Lawrence, a full-back, provided the service from wide led to Bradley Wright-Phillips' goal against New York City FC on the weekend:

Toronto's midfield will have a lot of work to do, tracking the movements from wide positions and getting back to assist the defense in preventing New York from finding routes to goal.

One final note: If Toronto is caught with numbers forward, New York is very capable of hitting on the counter, as they did when the Union were pressing for an equalizer. One pass from Dax McCarty springs Kljestan who saunters up-field before laying over to Anatole Abang:


On the other side of the ball, those same assets can prove a liability: a team that presses is forced to leave spaces behind them. A fitting anecdote overheard this week: tactics are like a small blanket, no matter how strategically it is positioned, there is always something left uncovered.

With the front four in press mode, a lot of responsibility falls on Felipe and McCarty to cover the ground in front of the back-line. If they and the full-backs also commit to the attack, the centre of the Red Bull defense can be left exposed.

One of Jesse Marsch's methods, something Toronto tried early in the season, is the use of a high back-line. The general idea is to compress their active part of the field, thus creating options for possession while also confining the opponent to limited ground.

The risk of course is that if that perimeter is breached, it is difficult to recover – it is a tightrope walk – and, as with Toronto's experiment, a lack of speed in the centre-back position can prove deadly.

A match against Colorado exhibited this frailty, Dominique Badji twice broke in clear on goal, but Luis Robles was able to make the saves on both occasions – here the second, peeling off the back-line. Note how long of a run at goal Badji had in the first attempt:

Toronto should look to find either Sebastian Giovinco or Jozy Altidore making those runs off the back-shoulder. Both are capable of picking those moments and Altidore has looked at his best in those quick attacks, when he finds the space to play his game.

A similar concern involves the central part of the pitch, with McCarty and Felipe caught forward, the centre-backs are left to fend for themselves.

Frank Lampard was able to walk right past Matt Miazga on one play, while Dominic Oduro's goal for Montreal came when both Miazga and Karl Ouimette failed to adequately track the Ghanaian's follow-up towards goal:

Streaking runs out of midfield is something that Toronto needs to add to their game, and it may just be the perfect way to get at this New York side.

Another by-product of that central pressure is that McCarty and Felipe can be forced deep into the area – that is McCarty attempting to stop Oduro's shot above – which leaves space at the top of the area for a pull-back or lay off. Michael Bradley will salivate with that sort of space, while Collen Warner and Benoit Cheyrou, as well as Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio, can strike from that area as well. Osorio scored the second goal of his MLS career against the Red Bulls from such a position.

That same vulnerability rears it's head out wide too, where full-backs can be caught up-field. Marsch has positioned his blanket to cover the central parts of the pitch, the trade-off is that it leaves those wide areas open for exploitation.

Young full-backs are great for their energy and willingness to go forward, but on occasion they forget their defensive roles, leaving open space for a back-side run.

Mix Diskerud nearly capitalized from such a play, getting behind Lawrence to arrive at the back-post to arrive on the end of an Angelino cross on a quick break:

Key to that play is the movement of David Villa, who drags the back-line out of position further with his near-post run. Toronto's attack has been formidable at times, but has often been a singular effort, relying on individual quality rather than team play.

Altidore will be highly motivated against his former club, while Giovinco will love the wide space that New York allows. They need to get working together, creating space for each other and reading the other's movement to make things happen.

Now is as good a time as any.

One final possibility: New York can be beat in the air, as shown by Conor Casey's header on target:

Robles made the save, but the potential of winning chances remains. Toronto has not made use of the air, but they have the pieces. Again; Saturday is as good a time as any.

Points of Interest

Saturday's match is the first of two meetings between the clubs this season. The other will be played on October 14 in Toronto.

The clubs have met 21 times in league play with New York winning eleven, Toronto five, and the remaining five ending level. That may seem daunting, but it should be noted TFC has taken points from three of the last five encounters.

Ten of those games have been played in New York, where the Red Bulls have won eight and drawn one; Toronto's only win coming back in 2008 at Giant's Stadium when a Chad Barrett brace and an Ibby Ibrahim capper overpowered a Dane Richards strike.

New York are unbeaten at Red Bull Arena, winning five and drawing the other – last season's 2-2 result, where Peguy Luyindula opened the score, only for Jermain Defoe and Gilberto to respond. But Wright-Phillips tallied a stoppage-time equalizer, denying TFC a surprise victory.

Maybe this year....