It feels like years since any of us have been at Red Bull Arena or seen the New York Red Bulls take to the field and play, but that’s what happens when a pandemic of a global scale runs things into the ground. Let’s not focus on that as, first and foremost, we are here to discuss the Red Bulls and what that starting line-up could look like come July 12.
Before the pandemic brought the season to a halt, the Red Bulls were 1-1-0 having won 3-2 at home against Cincinnati and tied 1-1 on the road against Real Salt Lake. Coming into the tournament, the Red Bulls slotted into Group E with Atlanta United, who are their first opponent on July 11, Columbus Crew (July 16), and will close the group out against Cincinnati on July 22. The group is not ideal, but it is manageable for the Red Bulls.
Team-wise it is expected that every one that is on a first-team contract will travel to Orlando, except Josh Sims. The club announced on July 1 that he was loan was not renewed and he has returned to Southampton. Sims was a missing figure in the return to play practice sessions and ultimately, his time with the New York Red Bulls has come to a weird and unsatisfactory end.
So, where does this leave the team? It is highly doubtful that Chris Armas will abandon 4-2-2-2. While the formation started that way in their two games, it transitioned to a 4-2-1-3, with Kaku coming into the midfield to roam about allowing for Florian Valot or Josh Sims to play more forward. There might few changes to the line-up overall, it all comes down to who’s shown tenacity and drive. Let’s take a look at who could begin the tournament against Atlanta on July 11.
Goalkeeper: David Jensen
Jensen took the hearts of Red Bull fans for wearing the infamous red cap against Cincinnati. That’s not the only thing though, he was a reliable keeper outside of the first goal, where the glare of the sun disturbed his vision. The second goal came from a one-on-one due to an unfortunate break in the backline. Outside of that Jensen has a good reaction time and has saved the Red Bulls from various holes they put themselves in. The goalkeeper spot is a wild card, but odds are Ryan Meara and David Jensen will share the role, with Kendall McIntosh on standby for any injuries.
Left Back: Jason Pendant
Not much can be said about Pendant just yet as he is not proven in the system. However, during his time with Sochaux, he was a very defensive left-back, which works perfectly for the team in their new formation and will allow Kyle Duncan to run up and assist. His style of play could very well change as the Red Bulls tends to place players in new areas or help them evolve in their position.
Center Back: Aaron Long
The rock of the backline and always reliable, it would be crazy not to start Long. He missed the first two games of the season due to a minor hamstring injury and was benched merely out of precaution. Long is expected to start and has been part of the practices, except for recently to welcome his new baby daughter.
Center Back: Tim Parker
The other tough rock of the backline, Parker has done well for the Red Bulls. At times he will have lapses in defense and can lead to dangerous one-on-one situations or requiring a teammate run in and save the day. While his errors are a cause for concern, it is not a reason for him to sit, unless Amro Tarek can show that he is better there. Parker will need to step up and show why he one of the highest paid defensive players in the league.
Right Back: Kyle Duncan
Duncan has cemented his role in the right back position after the departure of Michael Amir Murillo. Duncan has the tenacity and footwork to get himself out of trouble and suddenly find himself running down the opponents’ side and kicking either a goal or an assist. He has emerged into a credible attacking threat on the wings.
Defensive Midfield: Sean Davis (Captain)
Named the Captain of the team, it is a no-brainer that Davis retains his role. It is often thought that Davis disappears on the field, but it’s more so that his role allows him to make passes and move the ball forward. Defensively he is not the best, he’s an 8 playing in a 6 role. However, given that the team has had time to train, he could very well expand and turn into a unique defensive midfielder.
Defensive Midfield: Cristian Cásseres Jr.
Cásseres really came in into stride last season, falling into favor over Marc Rzatkowski. The Venezuelan has solidified the midfield and brought a lot of what went missing when Tyler Adams went to RB Leipzig. While Cásseres is not just quite there, he’s young enough where he has the ceiling and can certainly transform into another Adams like player with the added ability to score goals when given the opportunity.
Attacking Midfield: Alejandro Romero Gamarra
Kaku has shown lot of flashes of brilliance; from pin-point crosses, to nutmegging someone, to stealing a ball when a player least expects it and score, and outright creating magic of his own. Kaku’s start with the club was not exactly smooth, a myriad of problems from his ex-manager, to the issues with Club América. However, his performance on the field was never in question. There is the argument that he did not exactly perform his best last season and seemed to be at odds with his ability to create without Bradley Wright-Phillips at top. This new formation created an exciting new spark in him, allowing him to net a goal of his own in the home opener, and there’s a lot to like and look forward to.
Attacking Midfield: Florian Valot
Valot has had unfortunate times in his career as a Red Bull, suffering anterior cruciate ligament tears in both of his legs. What may dismay any other player has not at least bit stopped Valot, the 27-year-old seems to be firing on all cylinders and if anything seems to be in prime position to make use of the wing and push forward to assist in the attacking third, as shown when he was involved with two assists in the home opener.
Center Forward: Danny Royer
Royer finds himself in a new position and early viewings does not give a full picture of if this position will work in favor or against the Austrian. In a lot of ways his play style in those games is like Timo Werner at RB Leipzig because the position requires Royer to drift wide as well as providing a threat in front of goal. It could be something that Chris Armas is trying to replicate.
Center Forward: Brian White
This another point of contention and a great unknown coming into the season. The wild card that has large shoes to fill with Bradley Wright-Phillips no longer on the team. It is not that White cannot do it at all, it’s a crushing burden of expectations from the fans. White rose to the occasion on multiple instances last season but no where near the level of Wright-Phillips. If anything, he needed the time off to focus and now has to prove that he is worthy of the starting position.
As it is, this is all conjecture and a wild guess. What remains to be seen is if the tactics for this tournament changes at all. The Red Bulls do have a leg up in training as they have been in full group training for the last couple of weeks and look to be in fit shape going into their first game.