Energy Drinks New York Red Bulls are trying to take a Cup away from SKC Nation tomorrow night. How could someone be so stupid you ask?
I got with Tzvi Machlin from over at Once A Metro to get some intel on this team actually from New Jersey, and to find out just who the hell they think they are.
Here are your Three Questions But Really Six:
We ask them...
Cody Bradley: The Red Bulls have not won a match since advancing to this final over a month ago. Is there any worry about form going into Wednesday?
Tzvi Machlin: The team has certainly had its struggles since losing Daniel Royer to an injury last month. With Royer sidelined and Mike Grella out for the season, the Red Bulls really don't have much else in the way of scoring threats aside from Bradley Wright-Phillips. Players like Gonzalo Veron, Muhamed Keita, Alex Muyl and Derrick Etienne Jr. have tried to pick up the slack but to no avail recently.
However, head coach Jesse Marsch has taken the chance to tinker with his lineup and get the younger or newer players some minutes - and that could play big dividends in the final stretch.
But for this game, Marsch needs to make sure that his players are well-rested, focused and giving it their all.
CB: Daniel Royer has been sidelined since early August after earning MLS Player of the Month honors. I know he has been working his way back to match fitness, what is the latest on his availability? Bonus points... How is Aurelien Collin coming along in his recovery?
TM: Royer seems fully healthy - he's running and practicing like normal from what I've heard - but we all know there's a huge difference between being healthy and being match ready. Personally though, I think Marsch will give Royer a surprise start to throw off SKC's gameplan.
As for your former center back, Collin is having a really hard time coming back from his latest injury. He should be back to fitness by the play-offs at the latest (if the Red Bulls can make it there), but the team is just going to have to make due without him for the time being.
CB: SKC have not been beaten at home in The Blue Hell in 23 consecutive matches. What kind of tactics do you expect Jesse Marsch will deploy to unlock this defense?
TM: My gut tells me Marsch will be playing not to lose for a good portion of the game, maintaining possession and waiting for the perfect opening to get some chances made
If he does plan on going for the win in regulation though, expect the team to make full use of its high press. You'll see wingbacks Kemar Lawrence and Tyler Adams, along with defenders Michael Murillo and Fidel Escobar swarming the ball to dispossess SKC at every turn. In that scenario, Sacha Kljestan and BWP will just keep shooting and hoping for the best.
They ask us...
TM: What tactics are Sporting KC using right now and how might the Red Bulls counteract them to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final?
CB: In the comfort of Children's Mercy Park, Sporting KC will be looking to control the ball and dictate the pace of the game. They will demand possession and the very moment upon losing it, will do everything to win it back. Which leads to a lot of professional fouls. Peter Vermes wants to make sure the Red Bulls are unable to build any sort of rhythm or momentum.
Yes, they are incredibly tough to beat (at home or away) but SKC also have trouble putting away a match. 11 draws this year and they needed extra time for both the Quarterfinal & Semifinal matches to advance in this tournament. If NYRB can stay organized and keep a defensive mindset they will likely have a shot at the end. Sporting will leave themselves exposed and will give a couple opportunities to strike on the counter, the question is if the visitors can capitalize on those precious moments. Tim Melia has bailed out SKC more times than anyone can even count anymore.
TM: Who has taken the place of Dom Dwyer since the big trade? And what does Dwyer's replacement do differently from the Orlando City striker?
CB: Diego Rubio has been the natural replacement to Dwyer, although Latif Blessing has seen plenty of time at the head of the attack as well. I actually think Rubio's style is more suited to the way SKC have slightly evolved over the past couple years. He has a much better first touch and is more comfortable with the ball at his feet. Where Dom was used as backboard in the build up to bounce off a pass, or just as that one last final touch for a goal; Rubio is more able to get involved in the build up and help keep possession.
And to be perfectly honest, I'll say out loud that I think Rubio is more lethal. He is more calm in front of goal. Dwyer is able to create a goal out of nothing by being a pest and hustling, but he missed an absolutely absurd number of sitters. I truly believe Rubio will just have a better conversion rate when given big chances.
TM: Last year's Sporting KC defense was good, but not this good - allowing less than a goal per game this season. What changed between last year and this year to give the team a near-historic defense?
CB: It has been a combination of several things, of course. The bottom line is that they have been so successful this season because the back line is so comfortable with each other. Those four have played together for years now - Besler and Sinovic were literally youth club teammates in KC. There is an understanding between them that is just amazing.
Seemingly not much has changed from last year. The back four and the keeper were all here last year. But things are different. Graham Zusi moved to right-back this year. Ike Opara has finally stayed healthy for the most part. Veteran Seth Sinovic, who had fallen down the depth chart last year, earned his regular spot on Vermes' field once again. Tim Melia has - somehow - stepped up to another level. Then the cherry on top to all these returning players has been Ilie Sanchez. Ilie has locked down the holding midfield spot, one of the most important positions in the system.
A Peter Vermes team will always be organized defensively, but everything has come together perfectly this year and it has been fun to watch so far.