In the last few days more media attention has been brought to New York City Football Club’s Designated Player, midfielder Maxi Moralez.
His stats speak for themselves, (he currently leads the league with 13 assists and additionally has made 6 goals), but to those who have been following his career in New York, the numbers barely scratch the surface of the artful and creative style which is Maxi’s signature.Maxi seems to be everywhere you need him while maintaining an overall vision of his teammates’ positioning.It is a treat to watch him week in and week out.
Last year NYCFC fans staged a virtual internet sit-in surrounding the MLS All-Star game by organizing the voting in of almost the entire Atlanta United team and refusing to vote in any of their own.The general sentiment was that NYCFC was doing well (ironically right after this, the season started tanking) and that our players should not be wasting their time playing in a useless game where they risked potential injury on the artificial turf.
With Atlanta as the run away front runner, other teams’ (ahem, NYCFC) fans were attempting to find any way to slow them down.‘Let them play in a game that doesn’t count! They think they are so great!Maybe they’ll get hurt!’
This season, perhaps because there is much yet to be decided in the Eastern Conference, New York City fans were less salty and overall more supportive of Maxi Moralez’s representation of the team in the MLS All-Star game. Maxi was about to head off to Orlando when he tweaked his calf in the game versus Sporting Kansas City.The injury is apparently minor, but in order to protect him Coach Dome Torrent will be resting Maxi on Saturday in the away match versus Real Salt Lake.
Let’s be clear:Maxi deserves both to be recognized as an MLS All-Star and get some rest. In general, Maxi’s roles in relation to the rest of this team reminds me of the role many mothers play within their family units.
Both Maxi and most mothers are constantly running in 17 different directions, while keeping long term goals in their sights.Both Maxi and many moms are their team/family’s “emergency phone calls”, are constantly aware of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and when there’s an opportunity for a family member to learn on their own. They know how to motivate others and experience joy at their teammate’s successes.
They don’t ask for their own spotlight and play hurt. Both never stop moving until they drop and set others up for glory.They know when others need to be scolded and when to protect them.They know when to stay calm and when it’s time to raise hell.All of these qualities are regularly demonstrated by Maxi Moralez, and NYCFC would be a far less cohesive unit and a far less successful team without him.
As reported by MLS.com, Moralez stated in a pre-All Star Game player Q&A, that he would like to possibly end his career where he began, in Argentina. There is a very strong chance that Maxi, a married 32 year old father with young children of his own, in his final year of his DP contract, is playing his last few months with the club. He deserves to end his career on his own terms, but as a fan of the team I wonder what this will mean for its future.
We will get a small taste of how the club plays without its ‘mom’ on Saturday against Real Salt Lake.Like a grown child moving out of the house to pursue a job or education, they’d better get used to it.
In the book Soccernomics, one of the things the authors talk about is how a team will do better more often than not when a new head coach or manager is hired. It’s not because the manager is better than the last, it’s because the change creates a psychological shift in the players. We see it all the time in the English Premier League. Remember when Jose Mourinho left Chelsea a few years ago? They were near the relegation zone when he was fired and replaced with Guus Hiddink. The club immediately began playing better and managed to finish the season in 10th place.
The New York Red Bulls are no strangers to this phenomenon. Before Jesse Marsch, no head coach has lasted longer than two years. The changes usually happened in the off-season, though. When Marsch left for RB Leipzig in July, it was the first time in a long time that the Red Bulls had to adjust to a new manager in the middle of the season.
When Chris Armas was named as RBNY’s new head coach, I was ready to see the same performance bump. Instead, it feels like the team is in a holding pattern, not sure where to go.
The truth is, whoever Red Bull hired would be the Lon Hammond to Marsch’s Noah Calhoun. When Marsch came into the club, he leaped onto the ferris wheel of our hearts, making us give him a chance. Not only did we give him a chance, we fell in love and did stuff like ate ice cream and called each other birds.
And when Jesse made it to three years, it looked like we finally found someone who really wanted to be with us.
But here we are: an Allie Hamilton without a choice. It’s not as if Lon is a jerk. Lon’s a good guy and we love him. It’s just that there’s something about him right now that’s trying to prove he’s just as good as Noah. And it’s hard to tell if that feeling is coming from him or from us.
Last night’s match against LAFC was another example of the no-win situation for Armas right now. While the team won 2-1 with a brace from Daniel Royer, the team felt stuck between the playing styles of Marsch and Armas.
I think this comes from two things: (1) Armas wanting to put his own stamp on the Red Bull system and (2) unresolved playing issues from Marsch’s time.
Once again, Armas had the starting eleven slow down the press. When asked about it, he said it was to increase possession, which may have worked against DC United and Ben Olsen, but last night showed why you don’t slow down against Bob Bradley. LAFC had a higher possession rate and a slightly better passing accuracy. If not for every Red Bull swarming players to force a turnover, LAFC would have scored in the first half.
The second half saw a quicker pace from the Red Bulls, even though LAFC still managed more possession of the ball. The fast rate of play allowed RBNY to force more turnovers and stay mostly on the opposing team’s side of the field. Their passing rate in the attacking half and final third left LAFC in the rearview mirror.
There were still big signs of where the team needs to improve. The Red Bulls have a good backline, with a strong central back pairing, yet they are still the team’s weak link. The lone LAFC goal wasn’t some unavoidable wonder goal. Diego Rossi was being marked by Michael Murillo, who was doing everything he could to prevent the player from reaching the ball. The other three defenders, especially Tim Parker, did little to cover the gap between Carlos Vela and the 18-yard box. Instead of keeping Adama Diomande between himself and Aaron Long, Parker stayed on Dio’s left rather than switching to his right. The switch would have allowed Murillo to hang back behind Rossi with a potential offside call.
Now, I know I’m not a professional head coach of a Major League Soccer team — I’m not even a simple, country lawyer — it’s just that I can’t help feeling these defensive errors need to be addressed more than the rate of possession.
In the end, the team won because they’re so darn efficient when they have the ball. Royer’s first-half goal actually was one of those wonder goals that come out of nowhere. Kaku crossed the ball to an empty patch of field where Murillo hustled to meet and kick it at goal, only to have it deflect off the keeper and onto the right foot of Royer as he was laying on the grass. That was well-prepared timing and dumb luck.
Royer’s second goal was something a bit more rehearsed. A ball kicked from the back to Bradley Wright-Phillips in the attacking third found him onside. LAFC, thinking he would take the shot on goal, rushed to get themselves between him and the net. BWP instead arced the ball over the grass to Royer who was able to knock the ball in past a diving Tyler Miller.
Armas made good substitutions, keeping two of them like-for-like with the third, Connor Lade for Kaku, building the defense to keep the winning scoreline. Derrick Etienne, Jr., however, continued to struggle on the ball and seems to be having trouble finding a stable footing in the squad.
It’s not easy to go from employee to boss, but I think Chris Armas is starting to become comfortable in his new role. The team also seems to be responding well to his leadership. And the fans always expected and supported him as the new head coach. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s enough to bump the team into the playoffs.
I’m sick of blaming myself when the New York Red Bulls lose on the road. Over the years, I’ve done everything I can to make sure they win. I put on the lucky kind of underwear; I wear the team’s blue or gray shirt because the red shirt is for home games only, and I always turn the match on in time to watch from the beginning.
I show up for away matches. It would be nice for the Red Bulls to do the same.
Am I being too hard on them? Maybe. It’s not like Saturday’s match at Orlando City was the worst performance they’ve ever given in an away match. It is, however, another entry in the saga known as The New York Red Bulls and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Away Game Record.
JESSE CAME TO FIGHT
Despite everyone else being preoccupied with the upcoming match in Guadalajara against Chivas, you could see how Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch wanted to win in Orlando. Deciding to rest many regular starters — including Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams, Daniel Royer, and Aaron Long — he made bold choices for his 4-2-3-1 lineup.
As this was only RBNY’s fourth regular season match, the lineup seemed a promising mix-up of the March 10th, Portland Timbers match. Carlos Rivas was sent to midfield with Alejandro Romero Gammara (a.k.a. Kaku), Florian Valot, while Derrick Etienne, Jr. was made the lone striker. Backing them up in the defensive midfield were Vincent Bezecourt and Marc Rzatkowski. For the back four, we saw familiar faces Connor Lade and Aurelien Collin on the left and center, respectively, and Tommy Redding and Kyle Duncan mirroring them on the right. Then, as always, team captain Luis Robles was in goal.
Now, this is the part where most writers would say, “The problem with untested lineups, though, is that they’re untested.” Well, my AP English Comp teacher taught us to never use clichés. And I also don’t think that this was the case.
Supporters of other MLS clubs like to rag on the Red Bulls for being owned by an energy drink. What many fail to realize is how the club’s corporate overloads have helped make Red Bull soccer the deepest well in town. For instance, Toronto FC, also in the CONCACAF semi-finals, plays Tuesday night after playing this past Friday. TFC has a second team — a good second team — but they still had to play their stars, Michael Bradly, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. The Red Bulls had the luxury of having Bradley Wright-Phillips, Daniel Royer, and Tyler Adams on the bench. And Alex Muyl and Sean Davis didn’t even dress for the match.
The RBNY goals made in the second half can be credited to the players being well trained in Marsch’s system. Goal number one was a beautiful chipped cross from Kaku to Valot, who headed it in with the grace of a ballet dancer. It’s the type of goal we’ve seen with other Red Bull players — set up the goal somewhere around the 18-yard box, pass it to a player somewhere within the 6-yard, get the ball into the goal.
The only difference here was how great that cross from Kaku looked. (Seriously. Go back and watch it again and again and then again in slow-motion. Not only does he make the cross with his left foot, he’s also not looking! I’m flipping out over here!!! I mean, he didn’t even know who he was passing it to!!!!!!!)
RBNY’s second goal came in the 24th minute when Valot passed the ball to Etienne, who deflected it off Orlando keeper, Bendik, to get his first MLS goal. Even this goal was an echo of last week’s Bradley Wright-Phillips goal when Etienne outpaced the defender marking him to run with the ball and glide it into the net.
Too bad these goals and the one made in the second half by Aaron Long were all answered by Orlando.
IT’S ABOUT THE DEFENDING, STUPID.
You don’t get a 4-3 scoreline without defending being an issue for both sides. Each team had weak backlines who left key opposing players unmarked. The defending was so bad that the score could have been much higher.
The first RBNY came about because no one was marking Kaku (a mistake I’m sure few teams will duplicate in the future). A second goal seemed possible in the 11th minute if Bendik hadn’t come out to the middle of the 18-yard box to kick out the ball (and you can’t blame him for being literally hopping mad since it was him versus three undefended Red Bull players.)
Then a third RBNY goal was possible in the 31st minute; it only was disallowed because Rivas was so obviously offside that the sideline ref’s flag was up before Rivas kicked it into the goal (but, again, why was Rivas allowed to be there?)
As for the Orlando goals… Ugh. I guess I should talk about them, too. No matter how hard they are to re-watch.
Okay, the first Orlando goal is freaking infuriating I can’t even believe it. It makes me want to throw a chair Bobby Knight-style, the defending is so bad. Orlando brings the ball up to the RBNY box while hewing to the right side of the field. Redding and Duncan are keeping pace, eventually getting between the ball handler and the goal.
They’re giving too much space, though, because the ball is passed between them (!!!) by Sascha Kljestan to Justin Meram. Collin and Lade are running to get between Meram and Robles, who’s expecting Meram to shoot on goal when the cross is made to Will Johnson, who scores the goal because the goal is so wide open it might as well be a parking spot for a Humvee.
I’m going to skip the second Orlando goal. I’ll talk about it later.
Let’s talk, instead, about the third Orlando goal in the 48th minute. Kemar Lawrence (who was subbed in at halftime for Connor Lade) was watching the Orlando player throwing in the ball instead of Dom Dwyer, even though Dwyer was closest to Lawrence and also the closest player to the Red Bull goal. Now, maybe Lawrence expected the offside flag to come up when Dwyer broke off to get the ball.
I thought he was offside. But Lawrence, who is a professional soccer player, knows more about the sport than me, an aspiring Martha Stewart-esque craft maven. So, he should know that there is no offsides on throw-ins(!). The most infuriating thing is that he didn’t even try to catch up to him. That was left to Redding who — shocker — did not catch up in time to kick the ball out. Dwyer skidded it across the grass, just outside Robles’s reach, and into the net.
As for the fourth Orlando goal, well, it really looked to me like one of those right place, right time kind of goals. The RBNY defenders were all marking the people they were supposed to mark. Sometimes midfielders just score from outside the box and there’s no way to stop it. It’s worth noting, however, that the goal had a sharp assist from Kljestan. I’m telling you, go back and watch it just for his part. It really makes you sad that Marsch decided to send him to Carousel.
GRUMBLE GRUMBLE REF GRUMBLE GRUMBLE
For some reason RBNY and Orlando City have beef. I don’t know why. They’re not a team who always used to defeat us and is infested with raccoons. They’re not a team with supporters from a city notorious for having the worst fans ever. They’re also not a team who has to play on a crumby turf field that gets mangled for the second part of the season because they share it with a ‘cheating’ NFL team. And they’re not even a team who has to play in a baseball stadium because their oil-tycoon owner can’t find a place to build a soccer stadium.
When teams have beef, though, the game can get chippy. It takes a good ref to keep things in line. That’s not what happened here. There was a lot of uncalled fouls, players were getting injured, and a goal was allowed that shouldn’t have been a goal.
The goal — which should have been disallowed! — came in the 26th minute. Dom Dwyer scored a header off a corner kick… by pushing Robles into the goal.
And Jair Marrufo didn’t even go to VAR!!!!!
I can’t even. I mean, the Red Bulls messed up big time on a couple of the Orlando goals, but this was on the ref. It’s a good thing this is a family blog or otherwise, I would be typing a long, long sentence full of swear words. This is the kind of goal that makes me really dislike the game sometimes.
WHEN YOU BELIEVE IN THINGS YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
A friend once told me superstitions are stupid if they work. What does it say about me, then, that I approach each away game hoping something I do will help RBNY win? Each game is won or lost by the team on the field. It’s not a special shirt or a ritual which will help the club win on the road. The only thing the Red Bulls need is a stronger backline and no amount of magical thinking is going to give them that.