Major League Soccer is back, and that is what they decided to call the summer tournament in replacement of the US Open Cup. The tournament taking place in ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex located in Orlando and is stylized a lot like the World Cup as it begins with group stages then is broken down into a playoff bracket. Group E compromises of New York Red Bulls, Atlanta United, Columbus Crew, and FC Cincinnati. It’s an interesting and exciting mix of teams.
This group is by no mean easy; each team the Red Bulls will face are going to be a challenge; each one comes with its hurdles and players to watch. The Red Bulls can come out on top in the group; it is not some far fetched dream or being overly optimistic. As strong as they seem, each powerhouse has defining weak points, not to say the Red Bulls themselves do not have them. Let’s take a look at each opponent.
Atlanta United is without Josef Martínez for the rest of the year, but still pose a threat with Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo Pity Martínez. Despite Martínez and Barco starting in the middle, they like to swing out to the wings before cutting into the middle and provide threats to the defense, therefore the team will need to shut them down and look for runs in from the midfield. Their replacement for Josef Martínez, Adam Jahn, has overall been a ghost in the games he’s played; in 129 minutes, he’s had 0 shots and made 1 key pass, as per American Soccer Analysis.
Atlanta’s backline is almost entirely comprised of new players compared to last year. Leandro González Pírez, who was traded to Tijuana, and Franco Escobar and Miles Robinson were replaced after falling out of favor, while Miles Robinson is injured. Earlier this year, Atlanta had a staggering 3-0 loss to Club América as the Mexican team exploited their backline and what appeared to be miscommunication between the players, targeting Anton Walkes and Jeff Larentowicz in particular.
An additional weakness the New York Red Bulls could exploit is shooting from a distance as Brad Guzan has already conceded 3 goals from outside the 16-yard box this season.
Columbus Crew comes in as the more frightening match-up. The combination of Luis Diaz, Lucas Zelarayán, and Gyasi Zardes is a trio that everyone will need to focus on, which is accompanied by the threat of Pedro Santos, Artur, and Darlington Nagbe in midfield, therefore this match will take all the focus the Red Bulls have. The team’s high-tempo pressing could be a way to expose Columbus’ weakness, as against a 10-man New York City FC and Seattle Sounders, the team was unable to play their game because of the opponent’s pressing. Shutting down their options and pressing them down will be effective.
Defensively, it’s hard to say if they’re reliable or not. Columbus’s new goalkeeper Eloy Room has done well in place of Zack Steffan and the only goal he has conceded this season was a penalty against the Sounders. New York Red Bulls will need to exploit all avenues of attack and find a weakness in order to make sure it isn’t 4 games in succession without a win against Columbus.
Where does it all start for Cincinnati? The disarray in the head coach position finally seems solidified. However, what line-up Jaap Stam puts out is anyone’s guess, but who to focus is a different story. Jürgen Locadia, Allan Cruz, Jospeh-Claude Gyau seem to be credible threats to the defense and were the last time New York Red Bulls faced them.
The backline of Cincinnati, however, appeared to be like cutting butter with a hot knife, at least that how it looked when the Red Bulls and Atlanta played them earlier in the season. The team allowed itself to get exposed a lot and, in turn, that is a weakness that Chris Armas will have to exploit further when it comes to matchday. Irrespective of this, this is by no means a game the Red Bulls should take leisurely as the team squandered a two-goal lead at the start of the campaign.
In the end, full focus and extreme concentration are needed in every single match. The moment Red Bulls lose focus or composure it could spell the end of the road for them. First place is possible, the key here is to play the game how they want and set the tempo and speed. The moment they play down to their opponent or allow them to set the pace, the Red Bulls’ hopes of getting out of the group stage are over.