When the Red Bulls fired Chris Armas last September after the club won just three of its first nine contests, head of sport Kevin Thelwell issued a blunt assessment of the coach’s tenure.
“We must go in a different direction in order to meet the ambitions we have for our football club,” he said at the time.
Roughly eight months later, those ambitions look more in reach, and there is an optimism around Gerhard Struber’s young group.
This team could still regress from last season’s sixth-placed Eastern Conference finish, but make no mistake: spirits are pretty damn high right now in New York.
“The last games give every single player a very, very good feeling… results help to believe in our process,” Struber said after the team’s 2-0 win vs. Toronto FC last weekend.
The feeling is mutual for midfield starlet Caden Clark: “Struber has been great with his energy, he fires us up everyday in training, before games, you know he really brings the group together.”
And the same goes for new arrival Frankie Amaya, who scored his first Red Bulls goal against Toronto.
“It’s exciting to be here,” he beamed after the match.
Though Amaya hasn’t been at the club long, his excitement is fully warranted, especially in the context of recent seasons.
The Red Bulls have already won in consecutive games as many times (once) as in the entire 2020 season. They’ve reached seven goals twice as fast as last year too. In fact, this is the best four-game scoring start since the last year of the Jesse Marsch era.
In hindsight, it’s somewhat remarkable (and lucky) that the Red Bulls managed to make postseason play last season while almost never stringing together consecutive wins. They were, statistically speaking, a below average team, finishing the year with the eighth-worst xG difference/90 in the league at -0.26, per FBref.
Still, interim coach Bradley Carnell fashioned the team into a stingy group (they lost just one of their last seven regular season contests), and Struber has inherited that roster, plus key additions like Fabio and Andrew Gutman. That xG/difference figure – through a tiny sample thus far – now sits at a far healthier 0.04 in 2021.
There is lots of soccer to be played, and a tough test vs. Philadelphia looming this weekend. But for now, smell the roses Red Bulls fans.
Even more could be in store for impressive NYCFC
While I laud the Red Bulls for their second straight win, NYCFC deserves some credit too for a gritty road point at Orlando.
Once again, New York City prevented their opponents from creating much, as Orlando’s lone goal came from a long-range Nani strike and they amassed just 0.6 xG throughout.
But despite NYCFC’s strong start (7 points), there’s a feeling they could have an even higher tally.
The former Man United winger’s goal was the second (of three goals) New York City have conceded from outside the box this season, and they’ve won “just” two of their four games despite allowing by far the lowest xG/90 thus far in MLS.
Ronny Deila’s back three may be the key to marrying that solidity with offensive firepower.
He stuck with the setup again last Saturday, and although it debuted this season vs. a mostly 10-man Philadelphia side, the early returns have been promising.
Now we’ll see whether the formation could truly be permanent moving forward, or if Deila merely views it as a back-pocket weapon. The Red Bulls used Struber’s favored diamond to take down Toronto last weekend, and the Canadian outfit will enter Yankee Stadium on Saturday on short rest after beating Columbus 2-0 on Wednesday.
If there was ever a time for Deila to revert to the comfort of his favored 4-2-3-1, this may be it.
Options are a good problem to have.