Sun. Dec 10th, 2023

Image: New York Red Bulls

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We’ve reached home opener matchday, and it’s time to become experts on the Loons’ Saturday evening opponents, the New York Red Bulls.

For this, we’ve called upon independent Red Bulls reporter Eric Friedlander to give us the 4-1-1.

Jeremy: No goals in two matches. I know they had a ton of shots against Orlando, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Why can’t they seem to score early on here in 2023?

Eric: Yeah, no, it’s an interesting conundrum. And I think one that a lot of Red Bull fans are kind of throwing around theories and ideas about. I think some of it is just early season rust. There’s they’re also playing teams that want a bunker. So, like Orlando against Red Bulls have consistently kind of been a low block defending team looking to hit you on the counter. Same thing, Nashville, that is just built in, strong defense and then hit you on the counter. You know, if you don’t create the turnover, you have to be more clinical when you get your chance. And they just haven’t been as clinical.

New York has been quite solid at the back over these first two matches – only one shot on goal conceded. Unfortunately that did turn out to be the match winner for Orlando in week one, but it looks like specifically center backs Andrés Reyes and Sean Nealis are in extremely good form early on. What’s been the difference at the back through these two matches, kind of opposite to what’s been happening up front?

Sean Nealis has been the starting center back going on three seasons, now he’s the captain. He’s kind of always been this rock at the back. Andres Reyes has always flashed talent, but he’s always been a little injury prone. But he’s now fully healthy, and I think a fully healthy Andrés Reyes is probably one of the best center backs in the league. I think he’s a better center back than Aaron Long even. So like people talk about, “Oh, you lost Aaron Long. Why hasn’t the defense regressed?” It’s because honestly, Andrés Reyes is probably a better fit and a better defender because of his instincts on the first step. So, when the ball’s played into an attacker, he beats attackers to that ball, his first step towards the ball is really strong. That helps when you’re pressing system because you have to be aggressive and you have to win those 50/50 balls and those aerial balls.

Many of the national experts, if you will, both on MLS and I’ve seen some other places as well, like The Athletic, they’re pretty high on the Red Bulls this season, picking them at least to finish top three in the East and some predicting them to win the Eastern Conference and be serious MLS Cup candidates. Have you felt the same way coming into the season?

I think a lot of that bullishness comes from…they have continuity. They only lost one key piece in Aaron Long. So they bring back the core of their squad and now you add a DP striker, someone who’s supposed to be a 10-15+ goal scorer in this league. That’s the idea. So it’s kind of those combinations that lead to the expectations. And internally, the team is very high on themselves. They believe they should be a top three team in the East contending for a top seed and potentially a Shield.

Let’s talk about Lewis Morgan. I’ve heard numerous people from different places mentions him as a dark horse MVP candidate this year. He played only 45 minutes against Nashville. Is he fit and ready to go for Saturday? Are there any injury issues with him?

Yeah, so he came off at halftime of the last game, and it was not really known at the time what the reason was in the stadium. I think a lot of us just thought he was having a bad game and Gerhard [Struber] kind of does this from time to time, pull a guy at halftime just if you’re not playing well, but it seems it came out later that he was on a minute restriction or he was somewhat limited due to injury, but Gerhard said in his press conference [Thursday] he was fully fit.​

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