Red Bulls start regular season title defense with home loss to disciplined Toronto FC

By | March 6, 2016

IMG_6076Halfway through last season, and after one of the many impressive New York Red Bulls home wins, Sacha Kljestan stated that the team had gotten very little respect from the media.

His sentiments were reinforced by his coach, Jesse Marsch, albeit less combatively.

The media received the message loudly and clearly, but perhaps more importantly, so have the Red Bulls’ rivals, as evidenced by the approach taken by Greg Vanney and his Toronto FC in today’s season opener against the Supporter Shield holders.

Even while riding the record-breaking exploits of reigning MVP, Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto’s defensive displays, last year, regularly cost the team points, sometimes embarrassingly.

Determined not to have history repeat itself, Vanney shored-up his defensive structure by bringing in Will Johnson (Portland) and Drew Moor (Colorado) during the off-season, and prepared his team to absorb a lot of Red Bull pressure.

Set-up in a 433, which at times resembled more of a 451, Toronto sat deep and clogged the midfield, preventing New York’s playmakers from ever having too much time on the ball in their offensive third, and looked to spring on the counter.


Greg Vanney and second goal scorer, Marco Delgado, addressing the media after winning season opener.

The move ultimately paid off, as Toronto scored both goals in transition (yes, the first goal came from a spot-kick, but the move that led to the call was borne at Michael Bradley’s feet during a counterattack).

For their part, the Red Bulls were never able to fully adjust tactically. Usually the most offensive member of the Red Bulls’ center-midfield triangle, Kljestan did start the game on the left, as a means to avoid the Bradley, Johnson, and Jonathan Osorio’s strangle-hold in the middle of the park. But the move never paid off, as it deprived New York from having any width, and often caused Kljestan and Mike Grella to regularly occupy the same space.

Under Marsch, the Red Bulls have accustomed us to free-flowing attacking soccer that is direct and creates passing lanes by spreading the ball to the wings. Against Toronto, that was seldom the case.


Luis Robles (left) and Jesse Marsch (right) clearly disappointed with home loss.

Luis Robles (left) and Jesse Marsch (right) clearly disappointed with home loss.

Hits, Misses and Maybes

 Red Bulls Hits

Gideon Baah – Apart from the score-line, the center-back could not have asked for a better official debut as a Red Bull. Baah was quick to make his presence felt anytime Giovinco came near him, and while his ball distribution was suspect during the first few minutes, the Ghanaian’s passing accuracy improved as he grew into the game.

Dax McCarty and Felipe Martins – Space may have been at a premium, but McCarty and Felipe began the season as they finished the last, quickly recovering the ball and secure in possession. McCarty finished with a game high 92 passes, which included a deft through-ball to Bradley Wright Phillips that should have resulted in a goal.

Toronto Hits

Defensive solidity – Toronto came to Harrison ready to hunker down and did so successfully. With Bradley protecting them, Drew Moor and Damien Perquis showed good understanding and were rarely bothered by New York’s front-line. Steven Beitashour also put in a good shift, despite not having completed a single 90 minute game during the preseason.

Sebastian Giovinco – The Italian is the reigning MVP for a reason. Giovinco was isolated and quiet for most of the game, but managed to make his opportunities count. It was his cross in the 81st minute that helped Endoh earn a penalty, which he subsequently scored. The Italian also assisted on Marco Delgado’s goal.

Red Bulls Miss

Tactical Adjustments – Although Toronto executed its game plan with very few mistakes, the Red Bulls should have adjusted better. With very few avenues to exploit down the middle, and benefiting from the lion’s share of possession, the ball had to be spread to the wings with more regularity – especially since crosses were the only source of discomfort for TFC.

Toronto Miss

Giovinco as a lone striker – Necessity forced Vanney to play Giovinco as a target man. The intention was to take advantage of the Italian’s speed by quickly releasing him on the counter. However, the combination of bad passing and the solid partnership of Ronald Zubar and Baah all but transformed Giovinco into a frustrated spectator.

Red Bulls Maybe

Zubar – Baah Partnership – With Damien Perrinelle still injured, it looks like Zubar and Baah will remain the starting center-backs. The two managed to mark Giovinco out of the game for 80 minutes, but one could argue that that had as much to do with Toronto’s offensive ineptitude as it did with their performances. The pairing will have to be further tested before the verdict is in.

Toronto Maybe

Deep-lying Bradley – The captain had a solid game protecting Toronto’s back-four, and it was his pass that released Giovinco on the left in the sequence that led to the penalty call. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that Bradley would be more influential pulling the strings a little further up field.


What The Coaches Said

Greg Vanney: “We talked about giving ourselves a chance to win games, and a lot of that for today was some good strong defensive work. And we did that, and in the end we gave ourselves a chance to win…However we get results, we get results.”

Jesse Marsch: “With the first game of the season, we are not going to be our sharpest. Normally, you’d see us either create better chances out of plays, or finish plays off. I’m not discouraged by that…In the end, they came in with a game plan, and executed better than we did and they wind up winning. We just have to be a little sharper at moments.


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