Atlanta United’s jam-packed May continues, and its next match takes it to a place it’s never won: Red Bull Arena. While the Five Stripes were able to shake off their run of bad form against the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, they’re hoping that a five-match winning streak becomes a six-match winning streak in a place where they have yet to pick up three points in a regular season game.
Like Atlanta United, the Red Bulls have started off slowly, but they’ve regained their form and won three of their last four. What’s changed from earlier in the season?
While the team has slowly regained their form, I think the team has had trouble truly committing to Chris Armas’ tactics. What our team prides itself on is a high paced and physical playing style where the players can come out and be aggressive for the 90 minutes, however, this season we looked a lot more relaxed. Last season we saw Chris Armas implement a similar system to his predecessor Jesse Marsch, but it was slightly more possession oriented. Although the team would have to become more comfortable on the ball, the players would still have to play according to the high pressing “Red Bull” philosophy. When you compare last week’s match against Dallas to earlier matches this season, it was fairly obvious that the team against Dallas controlled the game and grabbed it by its horns with the help of their high pressing style. The players were winning all the duels and second balls, and then turning it into offense while trying to maintain possession as Armas has preached. The more the players can buy into Armas and his philosophies of a mix of “Red Bull” soccer with possession based soccer, the more positive results would continue to be.
A few key names for the Red Bulls - namely Bradley Wright-Phillips, Aaron Long and Luis Robles - have picked up injuries of varying degrees. Who has been able to fill those gaps in their absence?
Following the injuries of several key players, the Red Bulls have been able to fill in each position almost seamlessly. The Red Bulls have been fairly notorious for their role in the development of several players whether it be Tyler Adams, Aaron Long, or Matt Miazga, and all of that comes from their solid academy and USL team. As I mentioned before, we pride ourselves on the “Red Bull” philosophy of soccer, and that is preached from the time a player is in the academy all the way to the time a player is on the first team. Players who may be lower in the depth charts are ready to slot in to the first team because they are already used to the system and style of play implemented in the first team. For example, current first teamers Alex Muyl, Aaron Long, Vincent Bezecourt, Florian Valot and a few others have been able to slot into the first team following their time in either the academy or Red Bulls II. This has helped us greatly in filling in the gaps of players who are hurt. Brian White, who had been part of the academy, has been able to slot into Bradley Wright-Phillips spot and has played like he hasn’t missed a beat.
Against Dallas, we saw a strong performance from rookie Sean Nealis, who has regularly featured for Red Bulls II this past season where he has been integrated into the style of the first team. Ryan Meara, the goalkeeper who has stepped up in place of Robles, has been part of this organization for around 7 years now. He has been solid and knows the team and how they operate. Over the years the has been a solid backup and has always been great backup for our captain Luis Robles.
One surprise this season has been the emergence of Egyptian centerback Amro Tarek. We acquired Tarek this offseason from Orlando for a pick in the Superdraft after losing centerback Hassan Ndam in the expansion draft. Although he may not have had much time to learn how the team plays, he has stepped up and been nearly flawless. In the past years the Red Bulls have been focusing on widening their depth and this year it has helped fill in the wholes of many key players.
This is obviously the first time these two teams have met since the two-legged Eastern Conference Final in November. Do you feel that the players - and fans, for that matter - have really zeroed in on this match more than the ones they’ve already played this season?
The Red Bulls and Atlanta United have had many electric games over the past 2 years and I think it’s become one of the more entertaining match ups for each fanbase. After getting knocked out of the playoffs by Atlanta in what seemed like our season, I think this match and the atmosphere will be very special. The players and fans both have revenge on their mind and it will definitely be the most anticipated match this season. Both teams have started off slow and but picked up momentum recently leading up to what should be one of the matches of the season.