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New York Red Bulls: 3 keys to defeating Z-LA-tan and the LA Galaxy

New York Red Bulls celebrate Conner Lade's goal | Photo by New York Red Bulls | April 27, 2019

Harrison, NJ – New York Red Bulls got back in the win column on Saturday night, defeating expansion franchise FC Cincinnati 1-0 at Red Bull arena. Their victory over FC Cincinnati broke a 5-game winless streak, just in time to host Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Zlatan’s first season in Los Angeles was very disappointing, as Galaxy failed to make the Western Conference playoffs for the second year in a row. However, things have gone a lot better in 2019. Zlatan and the boys have hit the ground running this season and are only one point off the top spot in the Supporters Shield race – cross-town rivals LAFC currently have 23 points after 10 matches.

New York Red Bulls

Daniel Royer and Connor Lade of New York Red Bulls celebrate the goal | Photo by New York Red Bulls | April 27, 2019

New York will have their hands full on Saturday vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (7-1-0, 22 points), who extended their unbeaten streak to seven games in a row after sinking Real Salt Lake 2-1 over the weekend. Red Bulls (2-4-2, 8 points) are 19-17-8 all-time vs. Los Angeles, including 12-8-3 at Red Bull Arena. New York got the better of Los Angeles during a 3-2 victory in their only matchup of 2018.

The Galaxy will travel to New York on Thursday ahead of their 2:00 PM (ET) Saturday kickoff, which can be seen on ESPN. Let’s take a quick look at three keys to victory for this struggling RBNY side.

  • Press high and suffocate LA’s possession

If the Red Bulls want to stop Zlatan from scoring goals, they’ll need to put their running shoes on. New York was able to stifle FC Cincinnati’s offense (or lack thereof) last weekend by pressing high, closing down the ball in midfield and out-working their competitors. The same will need to happen if RBNY want to knock off this West-coast giant.

Los Angeles is not particularly pacey up front, especially the lead-footed Swede. Therefore, Red Bulls can play a high line – with minimal consequences – and pressure the ball to force turnovers in the opposition’s defensive half. Those turnovers can lead to opportunities on the counter verses often shaky Galaxy defenders. Los Angeles have a super talented midfield, capable of picking out passes from anywhere on the field – as evidenced by their 85% passing accuracy through nine games this season. New York must close down fast and prevent the likes of Jonathan dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget and Joe Corona from having time on the ball.

Red Bulls should also consider keeping their attacking fullbacks home on the flanks, occupying space while limiting service into the box. The Galaxy averages a league-leading 21 crosses (from open play) per game and are connecting on those crosses 28% of the time. Red Bulls normally do a great job on balls in the air with big, athletic defenders like Long and Parker. However, the 6-foot-5 tall Ibrahimovic will tower over both center-backs and has a knack for cutting in front of defenders at the last minute to score goals. Galaxy have scored 15 goals this season, with five of those coming from headers.

  • Get on the score sheet early and keep Zlatan off of it

Like most teams, the Red Bulls are most effective when playing with a lead. Unfortunately, leads have come few and far between this season. So far in 2019, New York has only scored first in two of their eight matches – week 1 vs. Columbus and week 8 vs. FC Cincinnati. Red Bulls have had to come from behind in the other six matches, resulting in 1 win, four losses and 1 draw. Not good.

New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer taking a shot | Photo by New York Red Bulls | April 27, 2019

This New York team is not ideally set up in regards to digging themselves out of a hole. Red Bulls like to invite pressure, allow their press to cause turnovers and then hit teams on the break. With that said, it’s pretty hard to counter-attack when your opponent has a lead and is content playing “keep away”. This may not be an issue on Saturday considering the Galaxy boast one of the best offenses in the league, with Zlatan sitting on 8 goals – three strikes behind MLS’ leading scorer Carlos Vela (11 goals).

Considering their poor run of form and injuries (or suspension) to some key players, New York will need to jump on Los Angeles early and stay committed on the defensive end. An end-to-end game with tons of shots definitely favors the Galaxy and would more than likely result in a Red Bulls defeat.

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  • Defend “The Fortress” like Jon Snow at Winterfel

Historically, Red Bull Arena has been the toughest place to play in MLS for away sides. Coming into the season, New York had won 65% of their matches on home soil. This season, RBNY is 2-2 at home while scoring six goals (4 of which came in the opener vs. San Jose) and conceded four goals.

New York must get back to their winning ways at home if they want to defend the Supporters Shield and make a run at MLS Cup. Luis Robles must repeat his performance from last week where he kept his first clean sheet of the season – the 64th shutout of his MLS career, moving him into a tie for 8th place all-time. Michael Murillo must limit the mental lapses and refrain from getting caught up field so often. Aaron Long and Tim Parker must rediscover the form that saw them concede a league-best 31 goals in 2018, and get back to being the the best CB-pairing in MLS. But most of all, the midfield has to man up and start doing their jobs.

Everyone knew losing Tyler Adams would be a major blow to a team that was so dependent on his work rate. But his absence in the middle of the park is clearly evident. Honestly, I can’t recall a Red Bulls midfield playing this softly, with such little bite to it. Sean Davis has been decent in spots, Marc Raztkowski is invisible in far too many games and Vincent Bezecourt is a defensive liability. Cristian Casseres Jr. seems to be the only one on the team willing to stick a foot in and bury somebody.

Red Bulls need to dig deep and find the desire to compete for 90 minutes, week in and week out. A failure to do so will most likely cost Chris Armas his job and the season will be over faster than you can say “Henry In”.

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