HANOVER, N.J. – It was yet another formation for the New York Red Bulls on Friday night in a 1-1 home tie with Toronto FC. This one seemed to work, at least for a half.
The Red Bulls rolled out a 4-4-2 formation against Eastern Conference-leading Toronto, deploying a holding midfielder (Felipe) right in front of their backline of four defenders.
In a midfield line above him was Mike Grella on the left wing, Sacha Kljestan centrally and Alex Muyl on the right.
It seemed to work as the Red Bulls conceded a lot of possession in the first half but went into halftime with a 1-0 lead. The 4-4-2, it seemed, had some staying power.
They then switched to their more familiar 4-2-3-1 in the second half, taking off forward Fredrik Gulbrandson, who had a good 45 minutes alongside striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. In his place, Sean Davis was slotted in next to Felipe.
The result was Toronto continuing press and they found their equalizer midway through the second half. The tactical switch didn’t seem to pan out for head coach Jesse Marsch.
It was a puzzling move as the 4-4-2 was looking solid, certainly better than the ill-fated 4-2-2-2 that was predominantly used for the early part of the season.
The switch to yet another formation was a way to find a catalyst for what has been a rough start to the season for the twice-defending Eastern Conference champions.
Calling it a “positive” performance, Marsch still said the team “needs to get a little bit sharper and a little bit cleaner in some of our ability to take advantage of attacking moments.”
“We changed a formation a little bit to try and see if we could press and occupy their defenders a little bit more to be more defenders then just think about they could space the field,” Marsch said on Monday. “In some ways, I thought it was good but in other ways, it exposed us through the midfield and we couldn’t quite cover the gaps. I was worried about Felipe’s ability to be able to cover the whole space in the back four. We made the switch, it was purely tactical. It wasn’t easy to take Frederik off because I actually thought he was playing well.”
Marsch said that Davis had a really good performance and he helped the game when he entered.
The advantage of the 4-4-2, or at least this iteration of it, stems from the fact that the Red Bulls have scored just 13 goals this year, the second lowest tally in the Eastern Conference.
In the role of being the lone destroying midfielder, Felipe couldn’t move forward as much and had to stay centrally with a holding midfield partner like in the other formations used so far this year. It was his responsibility to cover a lot of turf.
“I think you know, first off, playing that way gave us some more attacking options. Overall I think we could have been better or faster on the ball,” Felipe said. “I think overall it was pretty good. Sacha, Mike, and Alex did a pretty good job. Up [top] Frederik and Bradley were working together. That gives us options moving forward that we can play different formations with the personnel that we have.”
-Felipe not only had a different role last week, he had a different look. The Red Bulls midfielder shorn off his famous curly black locks, going with a buzzcut look. According to the broadcast on MSG, he talked about the decision with his wife before getting clipped.
“I talked to her before that, I needed to get her approval before I do anything,” Felipe said.
He now has virtually no hair, a far cry from his toddler son Noah who is adorably loved for his long, curly hair. Noah’s hair is now far better than dad’s.
“He always did - my wife has beautiful hair, I have very bad hair. He came with a mix of both. I think, you know, just to change it up,” Felipe said. “We take a lot showers, now especially it is warm. I think it’s a better look. I look better and I look more beautiful.”
While Felipe’s wife might like the look, his head coach and his wispy hair isn’t a fan.
“We’ve had a bunch of guys going bald right now and I’m not a proponent of that,” Marsch said. “Even Tony Jouaux our fitness coach. He had a child and he gave up on life. I don’t like to see that.”
-Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams started and featured for the United States national team in a 3-3 result with Ecuador in the U-20 World Cup. Marsch woke up early to watch the match, which was played in South Korea.
“Thought he played really well, covered a lot of ground. Helped slow down the game a little bit for them with the ball. Helped set-up the second goal, won a lot of his duels,” Marsch said. “Against a very athletic Ecuador, his athleticism held up in a big way.”