After yet another draw at home last week to the Columbus Crew, coach Frank Yallop threw down the gauntlet ahead of Sunday evening’s match against the New York Red Bulls (6:30pm CT on My50/TWCSC), claiming it is a “must win” for the Fire. The Red Bulls enter Sunday on a high after coming from behind to defeat New England despite being down to 10 men for 45 minutes. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Tracking Thierry – keeping tabs on the Frenchman in his new deeper role
Despite being 36, Thierry Henry has had another standout season to date for the Red Bulls, and put in a great 45 minute shift in the MLS All-Star game on Wednesday evening in Portland. Henry started the match in part due to his league-leading 10 assists so far this season.
The Red Bull coaching staff have recognized that Henry is better suited to playing behind striker Bradley Wright-Phillips and the decision to drop him deeper has been a revelation, with the Frenchman setting up goal after goal for Wright-Phillips who leads the league so far with 18.
Henry not only drops deep centrally, but also pulls wide, as he did in his Arsenal days. Against Columbus last week, the Fire dealt with Federico Higuain quite well, especially in the first half, with Chris Ritter and Matt Watson not allowing the Argentine to get on the ball and dictate.
Higuain came into the game more in the second half, but overall, he had much less of an impact on the game than he did in the corresponding fixture at Columbus in May. I am confident that Ritter and Watson can do a similar job against Henry in the middle, but when Henry takes up a wide position, especially on the right, I am more concerned.
Gonzalo Segares was left exposed on too many occasions against the Crew last week and the Men in Red will need to do a better job supporting the Costa Rican on Sunday evening. Alex drifted into the middle a little too much against Columbus , leaving Sega dealing with both Ethan Finlay and the advancing Michael Parkhurst down the Columbus right.
Harry Shipp provided more cover when he came into the game in the second half and I expect to see the rookie get the start on Sunday ahead of Grant Ward. If the Fire can make the tactical adjustment to shut down Henry when he drifts wide, it will hopefully not only limit the Frenchman’s effectiveness, but also cut the supply line to Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Exploiting the space behind the target striker – getting the ball to attackers in this space
In both of the Red Bulls’ last matches, against New England and Real Salt Lake, the Jersey team had a very difficult time defensively picking up the second striker or attacking midfielders that moved into the space behind the target striker.
Against New England, Kelyn Rowe was able to get the ball in this space on numerous occasions, especially from knock-downs or flick-ons from Charlie Davies. In the Salt Lake match, Joao Plata was able to do the same. With this in mind, I expect to see Mike Magee or Quincy Amarikwa looking to pick up the ball in the space between Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty and the Red Bull defense.
Ideally, the wide players such as Shipp, Alex, Cocis or Ward would be the ones cutting inside and picking up the ball in this space and in turn looking to find Magee or Amarikwa, or taking a crack at goal.
As I said earlier however, the Fire wingers must find the right balance between looking to cut inside and staying out on the wing and support both the attack and the defense from that position. If the Fire attackers can get some time on the ball in this area of the pitch, it could make the difference on Sunday night.
Seeing more from the final balls – better passes and deliveries in the final third
Against Columbus on Saturday night, I was dismayed by the number of times Fire players go into great positions, only to make a hash of the final pass or cross. With better final balls, the Fire could’ve been two or three up at halftime.
We know that Quincy Amarikwa and Mike Magee are more than capable of getting into good spots and finishing when fed in that position. On more than a few occasions, Magee was able to ghost into the box but Amarikwa was unable to find him. On the outsides, the deliveries from the wingers and wing-back were also not of the highest standard.
I look to see improvements in crosses from these areas on Sunday evening, too. Finally, the Fire set piece deliveries were also mostly below par. I don’t expect the Red Bulls to give the Fire attack as much space as the Crew did, but the Men in Red must try and find attacking players in good positions when the team does find that space.
With a team-leading six goals and five assists, I look for Harry Shipp to be the man to unlock the Red Bulls defense on Sunday.
Prediction: The game is a must win and the Fire will come up big in the clutch: 2-1 with goals from Magee and Alex