ORLANDO, FL (CBSNewYork)- The New York Red Bulls find themselves in a difficult spot in the group stage of the MLS Is Back tournament. Chris Armas’ squad finds itself in Group E with Atlanta United FC and Columbus Crew SC, along with second-year club FC Cincinnati. While the team has already beaten Cincinnati this year (3-2 in March), the matches against Atlanta and Columbus will determine whether or not the Red Bulls will keep playing into late July in the knockout stage or if they’ll be heading back to the Big Apple after group play.
“I think consensus is that they’re the third-best team in this group. Columbus is really good and they’re really legit. I think for the Red Bulls it comes down a lot to how that Atlanta game goes because the Red Bulls have owned Atlanta in the regular season, haven’t lost to them yet in the regular season,” said Bogert. “Atlanta won’t have Josef Martinez. It really depends on that game because if they can get three points there, they are favorites to get through. But, it’s going to be an uphill battle if they lose but even if they get a draw because Columbus is very good. Columbus might even be the group favorite ahead of Atlanta depending how they look without Josef.”
Atlanta’s Josef Martinez being out combined with the Red Bulls regular season history against AUFC does in theory bode well for getting a result in the first group play game on July 11. But, as Bogert points out, the following game against Columbus will be crucial to any hopes of advancing out of the group. The biggest strength for the team is the depth that has been built up as part of the Red Bulls culture through the years. The academy program is strong and there’s a history of bringing up players that aren’t big names but who come in to make an impact.
“Another thing they have going for them is depth and that is going to be super important. Probably better than any other team in the league, they have proven that there are people you have probably never heard of who come in and make an impact,” said Bogert. “There’s no shortage of examples of that for Red Bulls and their academy is buzzing too. The depth is going to be very important for them and they have a good chance of going through. They’d be very happy with second place in the group I think.”
Whether they can get to second place is as always going to rely on the team being greater than the sum of its parts.
“They have a couple of holes. Outside of Kaku and Aaron Long, they don’t really have the top-end talent of a lot of these teams. Even Cincinnati, their top player is better than the Red Bulls top player,” said Bogert. “But, the Red Bulls have always been based more on the collective and they have always been based on the system that was somehow always getting greater than the sum of their parts. It’d be foolish to write them off but it’s going to be tough.”
Midfielder Kaku, top scorer Daniel Royer, and backline stalwart Aaron Long all return and Florian Valot is looking to make a mark in his return from an injury-marred 2019 campaign. Armas’ squad favors a high pressing style which will be something to watch in the Orlando heat from two perspectives. One, how long can Red Bulls keep up that style. And two, does that style wear out their opponents more quickly, offering opportunities for Red Bulls to strike?
We’ll begin to get answers when Group E play kicks off July 11 at 8:00 pm EST against Atlanta United FC.