By Kerissa Ward // @kerissaward
Sunday, August 5: 2-1 Win
In the book Soccernomics, one of the things the authors talk about is how a team will do better more often than not when a new head coach or manager is hired. It’s not because the manager is better than the last, it’s because the change creates a psychological shift in the players. We see it all the time in the English Premier League. Remember when Jose Mourinho left Chelsea a few years ago? They were near the relegation zone when he was fired and replaced with Guus Hiddink. The club immediately began playing better and managed to finish the season in 10th place.
The New York Red Bulls are no strangers to this phenomenon. Before Jesse Marsch, no head coach has lasted longer than two years. The changes usually happened in the off-season, though. When Marsch left for RB Leipzig in July, it was the first time in a long time that the Red Bulls had to adjust to a new manager in the middle of the season.
When Chris Armas was named as RBNY’s new head coach, I was ready to see the same performance bump. Instead, it feels like the team is in a holding pattern, not sure where to go.
The truth is, whoever Red Bull hired would be the Lon Hammond to Marsch’s Noah Calhoun. When Marsch came into the club, he leaped onto the ferris wheel of our hearts, making us give him a chance. Not only did we give him a chance, we fell in love and did stuff like ate ice cream and called each other birds.
And when Jesse made it to three years, it looked like we finally found someone who really wanted to be with us.
But here we are: an Allie Hamilton without a choice. It’s not as if Lon is a jerk. Lon’s a good guy and we love him. It’s just that there’s something about him right now that’s trying to prove he’s just as good as Noah. And it’s hard to tell if that feeling is coming from him or from us.
Last night’s match against LAFC was another example of the no-win situation for Armas right now. While the team won 2-1 with a brace from Daniel Royer, the team felt stuck between the playing styles of Marsch and Armas.
I think this comes from two things: (1) Armas wanting to put his own stamp on the Red Bull system and (2) unresolved playing issues from Marsch’s time.
Once again, Armas had the starting eleven slow down the press. When asked about it, he said it was to increase possession, which may have worked against DC United and Ben Olsen, but last night showed why you don’t slow down against Bob Bradley. LAFC had a higher possession rate and a slightly better passing accuracy. If not for every Red Bull swarming players to force a turnover, LAFC would have scored in the first half.
The second half saw a quicker pace from the Red Bulls, even though LAFC still managed more possession of the ball. The fast rate of play allowed RBNY to force more turnovers and stay mostly on the opposing team’s side of the field. Their passing rate in the attacking half and final third left LAFC in the rearview mirror.
There were still big signs of where the team needs to improve. The Red Bulls have a good backline, with a strong central back pairing, yet they are still the team’s weak link. The lone LAFC goal wasn’t some unavoidable wonder goal. Diego Rossi was being marked by Michael Murillo, who was doing everything he could to prevent the player from reaching the ball. The other three defenders, especially Tim Parker, did little to cover the gap between Carlos Vela and the 18-yard box. Instead of keeping Adama Diomande between himself and Aaron Long, Parker stayed on Dio’s left rather than switching to his right. The switch would have allowed Murillo to hang back behind Rossi with a potential offside call.
Now, I know I’m not a professional head coach of a Major League Soccer team — I’m not even a simple, country lawyer — it’s just that I can’t help feeling these defensive errors need to be addressed more than the rate of possession.
In the end, the team won because they’re so darn efficient when they have the ball. Royer’s first-half goal actually was one of those wonder goals that come out of nowhere. Kaku crossed the ball to an empty patch of field where Murillo hustled to meet and kick it at goal, only to have it deflect off the keeper and onto the right foot of Royer as he was laying on the grass. That was well-prepared timing and dumb luck.
Royer’s second goal was something a bit more rehearsed. A ball kicked from the back to Bradley Wright-Phillips in the attacking third found him onside. LAFC, thinking he would take the shot on goal, rushed to get themselves between him and the net. BWP instead arced the ball over the grass to Royer who was able to knock the ball in past a diving Tyler Miller.
Teamwork makes the dream work 😍
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) August 5, 2018
Armas made good substitutions, keeping two of them like-for-like with the third, Connor Lade for Kaku, building the defense to keep the winning scoreline. Derrick Etienne, Jr., however, continued to struggle on the ball and seems to be having trouble finding a stable footing in the squad.
It’s not easy to go from employee to boss, but I think Chris Armas is starting to become comfortable in his new role. The team also seems to be responding well to his leadership. And the fans always expected and supported him as the new head coach. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s enough to bump the team into the playoffs.
Featured image: @NewYorkRedBulls
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