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August 1, 2019

Grading the New York Red Bulls Season

Peter Nolan August 1, 2019

With the MLS All-Star Game complete, it’s time to hand out some grades on the season’s (slightly more than) first half.

The New York Red Bulls entered the 2019 season as the defending Supporters Shield winners, again. The 2018 edition of RBNY racked up 71 points from 34 regular season matches to edge Atlanta United for the right to raise the Shield.

Unfortunately for New York’s MLS originals, Major League Soccer does not decide its champion via the regular season, as in the European and South American model. MLS “Americanized” the sport with a playoff system that it has employed since the Red Bulls were known as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars back in the inaugural 1996 season.

The Red Bulls are only too familiar with this wrinkle. They’ve claimed the Supporters Shield three times: 2013, 2015, and 2018. Still, they have not once earned the right to call themselves MLS Cup champions.

All of which is to say that a run to the MLS Cup Final would render the following grades as meaningless, an eventuality that would likely please the majority of the Red Bulls.

We will grade by position with comments on the individual players.

Goalkeeper: B

Red Bulls captain Luis Robles has been one of the best keepers in MLS since he took over for an injured Ryan Meara in 2012. His leadership role since taking over ultimately led to Robles earning the captain’s armband.

Meara is still around serving as Robles’ backup, and the Yonkers, N.Y. native may well be the best number two in the league.

Last season, the Red Bulls conceded just 33 goals in a 34 game season, numbers that have proved impossible to duplicate in 2019. After Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Columbus, the Red Bulls have surrendered that same amount, 33 goals, in just 23 games.

Robles has played in all but one of those matches, and while the fault lies primarily with the Red Bulls defense, the goalkeeper must also accept a share of the responsibility.

Defense: C+

Injuries and international call ups have played a role in the decline of the Red Bulls defense. So too has some poor individual play. The Gold Cup deprived coach Chris Armas of three of his back four, with fullbacks Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica), Michael Murillo (Panama), and Aaron Long (USA) all missing time for the Gold Cup. Long’s center back partner Tim Parker has had some minor injury issues to deal with, and Lawrence missed the beginning of the campaign through injury.

The Red Bulls defensive depth has been severely tested and has fared ok. When Amro Tarek has more starts (17) and more minutes (1,388) than Aaron Long (13 & 1,125) and when Connor Lade has started just one game less than Kemar Lawrence, then your defense will suffer.

Which isn’t to say that Tarek and Lade have been bad. They haven’t. And fullback Kyle Duncan and central defender Sean Nealis have stepped in with some good performances when called upon, too.

But the rock solid certainty of New York’s defense from 2018, the defense that featured Murillo and Lawrence on the wings and Long and Parker in the middle, with Tyler Adams and Sean Davis patrolling in front of them, is gone.

Armas has shuffled players, shifting in and out of a three back and four back formation. The results have been decent. However, the uncertainty surrounding the Red Bulls defense is reflected in the team’s goals allowed stats and in the Eastern Conference Standings, where the Red Bulls sit fifth.

Midfield: C+

Replacing the indefatigable Tyler Adams was never going to be easy for the Red Bulls, even for a team that barely missed a beat when Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty moved on over the past couple of seasons.

The Red Bulls task was further complicated by Kaku’s flirtation with a failed transfer to Mexican powerhouse Club America. This led to the team talisman’s subsequent slow start. Kaku has since corrected course but none of the potential Adams replacements has come close to providing what the current RB Leipzig man brought last season.

Most of the minutes in Adams’ old spot alongside Sean Davis in the center of the park have fallen to Marc Rzatkowski. 19-year-old Venezuelan Cristian Cásseres Jr. has shown promised and seen considerable time as well.

Without Adams around to cover his customary huge tracts of land, some of that workload has fallen to a willing Davis. He has seen his assist total drop from eight in 2018 to just two so far this year.

Kaku’s assist numbers are also way down, continuing a trend that began in the second half of last season. In just 12 starts to date in 2019, the Argentinian born, Paraguayan international has contributed just three goals and four assists, leaving the Red Bulls struggling for creativity.

That has increased the pressure on the Red Bulls fabled press to cause counter-attack providing turnovers. Hard working wingers Daniel Royer and Alex Muyl, who has doubled as a wing-back, can be disruptive forces for opponents to deal with and Royer is a reliable scoring option this year (eight goals and six assists).

20-year-old Bronx native Omir Fernandez has two goals and two assists as an attacking midfielder. The rookie Homegrown prospect has been used off the bench in 11 of his 14 appearances this season.

After a good showing at the Gold Cup for Haiti, midfielder/forward Derrick Ettienne returned to Harrison, New Jersey brimming with confidence and looking to solidify a place for himself in Armas’ rotation. Ettienne has scored just one goal in 10 appearances (4 starts) for New York this year. If he can show some consistency, Ettienne could play a bigger role down the stretch for the Bulls.

Forwards: B-

Bradley Wright-Phillips has only recently returned from a long injury spell that created a goal-scoring vacuum for a team that has been overly reliant on him the past couple of seasons.

Goals were hard to come by when BWP went down until 23- year -old striker Brian White found the range and Royer found his shooting boots.

But it has been Brian White, the 16th pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft out of Duke, that has essentially saved the Red Bulls season. White enters the All-Star break tied with Royer for the team lead with eight goals and murmurings of a call up to USMNT’s January Camp.

Armas likens White’s game to BWP. There is something to that, as both strikers do their best work close to goal. Of course, White has much to accomplish before he can be ranked anywhere near Wright-Phillips, the all-time leading goal scorer in New York Red Bulls history with 108.

Armas has been slowly integrating Wright-Phillips back into the lineup. How he and White gel could have a say in how the Bulls finish up this season.

Team Grade: C+

If this seems harsh keep in mind the Red Bulls success from last season. Injuries and absences have played a role but fifth place (at the moment) is a big fall from first.

How Oddsmakers view the Red Bulls’ season to date

Oddsmakers agree with our assessment of the Red Bulls to date. After starting the season as one of the three favorites to win the MLS Cup, New York now have the 11th best odds.

They’re priced at +2000 on DraftKings Sportsbook NJ. That’s the same as Minnesota United.

FA Community Shield: Liverpool vs Manchester City – Odds, Game Time, and If Should You Care

High Press 10 August 1, 2019

The FA Community Shield is a match (with a trophy!) that takes place before the Premier League schedule begins each year. The game pits the previous season’s Premier League and FA Cup champs against each other.

Since FFP violating Manchester City won both trophies last campaign, Premier League runner-up (and Champions League winners) Liverpool will fill in.

When is the FA Community Shield?

The game takes place this Sunday, August 4th at 10am ET. It’s on a neutral field at Wembley Stadium in London.

The game can be viewed on ESPN+ in America.

FA Community Shield Odds

Not surprising, but Manchester City are favored to win the Community Shield for a second consecutive year.

However, their odds have dropped this week. City were odds on favorites at one point (around -115 / -125 range). After Liverpool’s impressive showing against Lyon in a Wednesday friendly, City move closer to even odds.

Odds are from DraftKings Sportsbook NJ. If you need a refresher, read how to bet soccer.

Liverpool +250Draw +260Manchester City +105

Should you care about the Community Shield?

That’s up to you.

City will care. As the perennial “look at us! we deserve respect!” club, City touts any trophy they can. After winning the domestic treble last year (and after after singing a song mocking Hillsborough victims), City adorably tweeted out a graphic claiming FOUR domestic trophies. The extra trophy? Their Community Shield. They even called themselves the Fourmidables.🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 Awwwwwwwwwwwwww. Someone in their marketing department thought “Fourmidables” would stick like “fetch.”

They actually thought “Fourmidables” would stick.

Liverpool, a club with an actual history and without an inferiority complex, will compete hard but not tout a Community Shield trophy in their 2020 presser.

Are Manchester United making a mistake by signing Paulo Dybala?

August 1, 2019

Manchester United are about to pull off their biggest coup of the summer by signing flamboyant Juventus #10 Paulo Dybala.

According to Sky Sports, United and Juventus are working on a deal which will see the wantaway Romelu Lukaku move to the Serie A Champions, paving the way for Dybala to arrive at Old Trafford.

Now, I would lie if I said this isn’t exciting. When you have this kind of a majestic player linked, who wouldn’t be happy? Call me pessimistic, but realistically this deal would also bring some concerning problems into the limelight.

Specifically, Dybala’s basically being force-fed into joining the Manchester club. There’s little doubt that United’s attack would get a world-class boost with the man once touted as Messi’s heir, but problems could arise to sink them even further.

Not your ordinary #9

Now it’s no secret that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t exactly fond of Lukaku. He’s not the consistent goal-scorer he craves. Also, that horrible / heavy first touch doesn’t help. However, his longtime demand has been to get an effective centre-forward. Dybala doesn’t exactly possess the deadly striker’s instincts OGS wants.

He plays more as a second-striker, loving to get the ball from deep in midfield to run at defences. He’s not the one to thump in headers, bully defenders with his physique or creep into unpredictable goalscoring positions. The Argentine has flair for days, having the attributes to run rings around defenders, but not the sly fox United need.

Dybala will bring a bigger dimension to their attack with his dribbling ability along with creativity going forward, but rarely scores scrappy goals like OGS wants. This deal could end up with United still lacking the emphatic, traditional centre-forward they’ve missed since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left.

Where exactly does he fit into the system?

Sure, the Juventus #10 is the fantasy signing to delight every United fan. However, there must be some thinking processed into how he fits into their playing system. Be it last season or in pre-season, OGS has opted for a 4-3-3 formation, allowing Paul Pogba to play the farthest of the midfielders.

Dybala is no natural winger to fit into any of their side wings. His crossing accuracy is average at best, as he becomes depressed being isolated in one side. However, he can’t operate as a centre midfielder because of his defensive weakness or inability to trackback.

His best position is behind the striker, not as one, which means OGS will need to shuffle up his whole system just to compliment Dybala. He’ll need to shift to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which will drastically compromise United’s defensive fortitude. Well, at least with Lukaku, they have someone with the ability to play down the middle!

Untested to the Premier League environment

Speaking of the Premier League, did I mention earlier that Dybala’s yet to play professionally outside Italy? After initially breaking through the Argentine league, he’s weaved his magic in Serie A in the last seven years, but remains a complete stranger to England.

He could end up struggling to adapt to the English league’s physicality. Moreover, the torturous schedule along with cut-throat oppositions week in, week out would be especially uncomfortable.

For a little Argentine, the intensity of the games could be too much to taken in. Now, I’m not referencing the famous, “Can Messi do it in a cold, wet night in Stoke” jibe, but don’t be surprised if Dybala ends up sweating after he learns the Premier League as a boiler room in comparison to Italy.

A scary similarity to the Di Maria debacle

Is it me or does this whole bringing Dybala to United have a déjà vu feeling to it?

It wasn’t that long ago when United signed another high-profile Argentine —Angel di Maria from Real Madrid — when in desperate need for a marquee superstar. He didn’t want to join them either and we all saw what transpired.

After little sparks of magic, Di Maria flopped under Louis Van Gaal’s system. Despite playing in various positions to his benefit, he couldn’t adapt to the Manchester environment. One year later, he joined PSG, becoming public enemy #1 in Manchester. Similarly, even Dybala doesn’t want to join United as they aren’t playing in the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League nor competing for the title.

He’ll only be coming for a spiked wage and could end up unhappy if he doesn’t like his new home. A forced move could turn down his performance-levels, making him struggle to pile on the misery on United.

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