This article first appeared in Prost Amerika
Jason Kreis cut a forlorn figure after New York’s defeat to Seattle last Sunday.
The home loss to the Sounders was the fifth in sixth games, a dreadful stretch that saw the team concede nine goals while only scoring three.
When asked about the rut, Kreis was remarkably candid.
“It keeps me up at night – a lot of sleepless nights to find a way to get the team to improve.”
The response was starkly different from those he provided after New York’s loss to the Portland Timbers just two weeks before. During that post-match press conference, Kreis remarked that he was confident about the team’s growth despite the defeat. According to the former Real Salt Lake coach, New York had been creating plenty of scoring opportunities, but just couldn’t find the back of the net.
Kreis’ optimism may have been surprising, but it was not groundless. In a game where scoring goals is the hardest thing to do, the conventional wisdom is that, sooner or later, a team that creates scoring opportunities will convert some of them.
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom does not always translate into reality. As a result, Kreis has been forced to continuously adjust his strategy, which has done more to spin the team into a bit of an identity crisis, than help achieve the desired results.
Nowhere is this more evident than in New York’s formation shifts.
Changes to a team’s formation are not unusual. Any given team may present itself in any given formation on any given match day.
However, whereas good teams reshape themselves either according to their opposition and/or available personnel, Kreis appears to be making his changes more as an act of desperation than anything else.
Whether in a 442, 4231, or 433, nothing in New York’s game plan suggests that the players have internalized the nuances of the different systems. If anything, the opposite is true, with players often looking confused about their responsibilities.
That’s been apparent in the attacking third all season. Even with scoring opportunities presenting themselves at times, one can’t shake the feeling that they materialized less from deliberate offensive processes than from standout individual efforts (think Mehdi Ballouchy) and fortuitousness.
The changes have also taken a toll on the defensive end, especially since Jason Hernandez limped off at halftime against the Philadelphia Union in April. With all the changes in front of them, the back four have struggled, often making the sorts of positional mistakes that good teams feast on, as was the case in the home loss to Seattle.
This is not the sort of state that Kreis envisioned his team to be in on the eve of the very first Hudson River Derby.
With local bragging rights at stake, New York will be facing a Red Bulls team that has not only established a very strong identity under Jesse Marsch, but has also developed into one of the best sides in Major League Soccer.
The relative enormity of the event will surely have New York’s players fired-up, but unless Kreis has finally found the right formula, it’s hard to imagine his men celebrating derby success.