New York Red Bulls mull answer to sluggish attack: "Our off-ball movement has to be much better"

Mike Petke, New York Red Bulls (July 20, 2013)

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The New York Red Bulls put an emphasis on fine-tuning their defense in training last week.

Now it is the offense’s turn.

Three days after saying his team’s attack “lacked creativity and imagination” in Saturday's 1-1 draw at home against Colorado, a game which nevertheless showed an improved effort on the defensive side of the ball, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke talked offensive solutions on a Tuesday conference call with media members.

New York were the highest-scoring team in MLS en route to capturing the Supporters’ Shield last season, averaging 1.71 goals per game, but have been held to one goal in both games so far in 2014.

“I think our off-ball movement has to be much better,” said Petke. “Coming out of the back, we played a lot of long balls. It’s easy to just point to the defenders who have the ball at their feet, but what’s going on in front of them?

"At the end of the day, just getting a bit more creative and aware of where you are on the field and shifting here and there to make opposing defenders make decisions [is what we need]. If they go with you, perhaps there’s a hole that opens up that we could bypass and get to the forwards, Thierry [Henry] or Bradley [Wright-Phillips]. If they don’t come with you, you could receive the ball facing forward. It’s just little things like that.”

Both of New York’s goals this season have come on headers from Lloyd Sam crosses: Henry netted against the Rapids, and Wright-Phillips scored a late consolation goal in the humbling 4-1 season-opening loss in Vancouver.

When New York saw their momentum slowed late last season, Petke deployed the more-offensive minded Péguy Luyindula in central midfield ahead and pushed Tim Cahill to forward. Any changes this year, including the possibility of returning the versatile Cahill to a spot up top, would come as the result of several factors that play a part in Petke's decision-making prior to each match.

“Some of it has to come down to how players are playing in practice,” said Petke. “The other part comes down to if they’re both playing well, what’s a better tactical edge for us. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

The Red Bulls are set for a visit to Chicago on Sunday (3 pm ET, UniMas), where they have not fared well; New York are 0-8-3 all-time at Toyota Park in all competitions. Combined with New York’s winless start to this season, that will put an onus on all of Petke's lineup decisions against the Fire.

“Next game, we go on the road, so it could be any way,” said Petke. “You could look at it any number of ways. We have time to analyze that and figure that out.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.