By: Logan Alexander
Victory against Orlando seems so long ago, but the feeling of confidence and momentum is still a remaining constant in the side from Jacksonville, and for their fans as well. Under the tenure of Tony Meola there is a sense of hope. There is a devotion of trust being ensured into the gaffer and the squad that they can challenge come time for the regular season, especially after earning results of 1-0 and 2-1 against Philadelphia and Orlando respectively. Be reminded that it still is only preseason and to not look into score lines to deeply, but these results do pose as massive feats. Though, when a tough New York Red Bulls team travel to the Bold City to face the Armada, questions will be answered. Are Jacksonville Armada the real deal this year under the head of Meola? Or, is this team surfing on an emotional high (in which they defeated two MLS teams), that will end Saturday night?
UNF v. Armada
Just two nights ago Jacksonville Armada traveled to local college, University of North Florida, and played to a 0-0 draw with the 2015 Atlantic-Sun Conference Champions. Armada retained possession and control the whole match but could not craft a body blow opportunity to put the college club behind them. Much of what was generated by the attack of the Fleet led to worthless strikes and the boys in blue had the worst time trying to find the target, or even test the UNF keeper. Kudos to the Ospreys, though. A well set up defense with constant communication all game enabled the side to shut down Armada attacks all night, creating a wall that could not be broken down. One important note about the match against UNF is that promising trialist, Charles Eloundou, went down with a broken foot and will be out of the contest with Red Bulls.
Last Time Out against New York
5-2 was the final scoreline when Jacksonville traveled to Orlando to face New York Red Bulls in what was a closed door friendly, and also the first match of the season for the Fleet. If you missed the recap of NYRB vs. Armada behind closed doors, here you go!
What to Expect
First, for New York Red Bulls. The 2015 Supporters Shield Winners, as well as the entirety of the MLS, begin their regular season in just over a week on March 6th. With a date against Toronto FC on opening day, NYRB plan to end their preseason strongly in a winning way at Community First Park on Saturday evening. Fully expect Red Bulls to be the toughest match of the year for the Armada. Like mentioned before, the regular season isn’t far away for the visitors, meaning they will in fact be playing physically and with purpose the full match. Also, expect the first team to be on the field for a long time. Starters have began to reach match fitness and the time for assessment has almost fully passed. During a quick interview with Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch, he stated to me that “Jacksonville is a big step as to the way our season will go. We (New York Red Bulls) will be looking for a result.” With the mindset of New York fully focused on success in the MLS coming up, Jacksonville will find it difficult to break this side down and hold them at bay during the match.
It will take everything for Jacksonville to defeat New York this Saturday at the Park. The difference between the two teams is how they are thinking. For Jacksonville, the friendly with Red Bulls is one that they want to win of course, but the end result does not speak as loud for the hosts as it does for the MLS giants. Once again, squad rotation will be key for Meola’s men as he is still trying to figure out the best lineup to deploy for the Armada for the upcoming season in the NASL. Expect Jacksonville to play just as competitive as New York in hopes to finish out with a 3-0 record against MLS teams this year, and 4-0 all time against teams in Major League Soccer.
We have witnessed Tony Meola reveal playing in both a 3-5-2 formation and a 4-3-3 formation, which bodes the question, what formation will be used on Saturday? In January when the two sides met, Jacksonville played a 3-5-2 formation which let in five goals which is a stat that was a bit worrying. Though, this was the first game where the three at the back formation was ever used. But as of lately, Meola has favored the 4-3-3 formation which defeated Orlando 2-1. Look, here’s the situation with this matchup. New York Red Bulls possess one of the most dominant midfields in the league with a partnership of two U.S. internationals in Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty, both playmakers on the field who have excelled in recent years, especially 2015 when they combined for 22 assists from the midfield. Both of these guys can completely disrupt any defense and they are a duo to keep your eyes on. With an addition of Felipe/ or Gonzalo Verón playing in a Central midfield role under Bradley Wright-Phillips, the midfield is lethal but can be contained. Take a look at the wingers and the striker role.
Anatole Abang, Lloyd Sam, Mike Grella, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Bradley Wright-Phillips. All creative figures playing forward for New York Red Bulls, all have an eye for goal, and all are difficult to control. In 73 appearances for NYRB, Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored 45 goals and has even claimed the MLS Golden Boot two years ago. This striker has a nose for goal and always seems to find himself in correct positions in front of the net. He is good with his head and a clinical striker who cannot be a lost mark on Saturday night. BWP has a creation side to how he plays unlike any other striker in the league, leading the player to seven assists last year in the MLS. The other four players listed above are all explosive and can create many opportunities during a match.
Abang is a 19-year-old Cameroonian winger who rushed onto the scene of the first team for NYRB after success for NYRB2 in the United Soccer League (Red Bulls reserve side in third division). In 17 appearances for the senior side, Abang scored four goals. Two things to watch for when it comes to this player is his burst of speed down the wing and his mental side of the game at such a young age.
Mike Grella and Lloyd Sam are the playmakers and consistent starters on the wing who performed exceptionally last year. Grella accounted for nine goals and seven assists, while Sam finished the year with ten goals and seven assists. These two wingers, along with the phenom known as BWP in the league, were the main figures that led New York to much of their success last year.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was listed because he is a speedy winger who used to play for Manchester City, Chelsea, and Queens Park Rangers. Down the line he can out pace much of his opposition and has experience in the attack. Though he is aging and has not had much play time the past few years professionally. SWP is at the bottom of the pecking order behind the others listed, but he can be a threat if he catches fire and he isn’t a player to forget. Also I’m biased and I love him so much so deal with it.
Now, after essentially breaking down every part of the Red Bulls squad, aside from the defense, this leads to my answer to the formation question for the Armada. Play a 3-5-2 against New York. But to have success against Red Bulls, the lineup has got to play perfectly. When in attack there needs to be three defenders back, and in defense the wingback have got to track back and support. With a midfield consisting of Richie Ryan and Lucas Scaglia or Nico Perea, whoever starts centrally can handle the playmakers for the opposition in McCarty and Kljestan. Main focus is in the attack. Matt Bahner and Bryan Burke can not be caught too far up during the match and are the keys to success for Jacksonville. There is a fear that if these two players lose themselves in this game, it will be lost for the Fleet. Main point, a perfectly played 3-5-2 will handle the New York Red Bulls midfield and attack. A 4-3-3 is worrying because the team would not get enough numbers back on the defense which will hurt them, especially since they are up against Red Bulls. Though, Meola has his own though processes. Four at the back has worked and has been the formation the manager has reverted to the past few weeks so we will see if he looks to shake up the lineup or not for NYRB.
Also, will the Armada challenge a Red Bulls defense that is the weaker side of the team? New York have recently signed Matt Miazga’s replacement, Gideon Baah, a young Ghanaian from HJK Helsinki who has featured for the Ghana National Team one time. Armada’s key is to challenge him early and make him uncomfortable in his new side. Speaking of, the whole defensive side of the ball for NYRB is full of young players that do not possess much experience. Chris Duvall is 24, Kemar Lawrence at 23, Baah is 24. The only player with quite a bit of experience with Olympique de Marseille and Wolverhampton is Ronald Zubar, though he has only featured twelve times for New York. A young defense who are still working to link up together is prey that Jacksonville needs to attack. High press from Jemal Johnson, Pascal Millien, and Alhassane Keita can play the Red Bulls defense off of their game, opening the match up for mistakes and opportunities in the Armada’s favor. It is highly important for the Armada forwards to play with tempo starting right out of the gates, winning in regards to the mental aspect of the match early on.
Jacksonville Key to Victory
Jacksonville need to play smartly throughout the ninety minutes on the pitch, and also need to play with a mentality of taking it to the superior opposition. Give nothing up to New York Red Bulls. Fight for every loose ball, play with heart on sleeve, finish chances created. Be clinical.
New York Red Bulls Key to Victory
New York Red Bulls have got to control the midfield, McCarty and Kljestan need to pull all of the strings and dominate. Include the wingers into the attacks, do not remain focused on sending the ball to Bradley Wright-Phillips every opportunity. Spread the play. Sam and Grella need touches and opportunity for impact.
Defense needs to be calm and composed throughout the game. No loss of focus, because Jacksonville Armada can and will pounce on given opportunities.
Kick off is set for 6pm on Saturday night, February 27th at Community First Park in Jacksonville, FL. You can catch the game locally on CW17 in Jacksonville, or streams may be provided online.