HARRISON, N.J. — New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch, trying to recapture last season’s mojo after a slow start to this season, went back to a tried and true formation, the 4-2-3-1, to make sure his best players were most comfortable on the field. Not only is that proving to be sound strategy, it may allow other members of the Red Bulls to reach their full potential this season, with tonight’s result possibly being a sign of things to come.
Two first half goals from Alex Muyl and Daniel Royer were all the Red Bulls needed as they kept a clean sheet in tonight’s 2-0 win over Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew SC, the Red Bulls’ second consecutive victory.
Starting the season in a 4-4-2 formation with two out-and-out strikers, Marsch felt that his two best players, forward Bradley Wright-Phillips and midfielder Sacha Kljestan, were not playing up to their potential, which prompted the head coach to scrap the experiment and go back to the 4-2-3-1 formation that the Red Bulls had had much success with over the past two seasons. If last week’s 2-0 home win over D.C. United was proof that switching back was the best plan going forward for the Red Bulls, tonight’s comprehensive win just added extra confirmation.
New York’s high-pressing style forced the possession-minded Crew into early turnovers, and that helped yield the first goal of the game within the first quarter of the first half. Off of beautiful build-up play in midfield, Kljestan found left back Kemar Lawrence, who was making an overlapping run down the left flank. Lawrence fired a cross into the box that glanced off of Crew center back Nicolai Naess and to the direction of Muyl, who took a controlling first touch before tapping in to give the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute.
Another turnover at midfield led to the Red Bulls’ second goal of the half, with midfielder Felipe playing a quick ball up the middle to fellow midfielder Royer, who burst up the middle of the pitch to lead New York’s attack. Royer played to the left to Wright-Phillips, who was taken down just inside of the top of the box by defender Alex Crognale and was called for the foul. With Kljestan and Wright-Phillips having mixed results from the penalty spot over the past few years, Royer was tasked with taking the spot kick, and he overpowered Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen – who went to his right and got a piece of the ball as the ball headed towards the upper corner – for a 2-0 lead.
Though the Crew possessed the ball for almost 60 percent of the game, their best chances came from a couple of long-range efforts from midfielder Justin Meram, including one in the 41st minute that landed on the roof of the goal and just above the crossbar and the outstretched arm of Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.