In Sunday night’s first-ever matchup between the New York Red Bulls and LAFC, we saw a Red Bulls team return to their familiar style of play – and winning ways – by continuing to implement their high press, letting the opposing team have possession and capitalizing on turnovers and counterattacks.
Head coach Chris Armas finally looks confident in his ability to lead this team since Jesse Marsch’s departure for RB Leipzig, and it appears that confidence has translated to his players.
When a new coach comes in midseason, it’s vital for him or her to take control of the locker room. A new coach must gain respect from his players, if he doesn’t already have it. To do that, he needs to give clear instructions to the team, have a philosophy that the players buy into and have everyone understand clearly their role within the squad.
When the results come, it strengthens the coach’s case. However, Armas was previously RBNY’s first assistant. He already has a relationship with the players, and trust – he wouldn’t be the head coach if it were otherwise. Now he just needs to prove that he can deliver results as the man in charge.
As an assistant, you give your thoughts and input to help the head coach make the final decision. But in his new role, Armas is now the man tasked with making those decisions. He must decide the correct substitutions to make and when to make them, sometimes making on-the-fly tactical changes.
In-game management is not easy. In Sunday’s game, Armas did a great job of making those changes at the right time, with the right players. Alex Muyl was the first man on and provided a good spark off the bench. He was dynamic and added energy for his team when they needed it most. Derrick Etienne Jr. entered next and added quality and was lively. Then with his last sub, Armas brought in Connor Lade to lock the game down.
As the head coach, man management is one aspect that you can control. You have to be in tune with your players. I never understood when a coach didn’t take the time to know the players individually and figure out the best way to coach them. All players are different in how they get motivated. Figuring out each player’s mentality and what makes them tick is key to a successful season.
Playing at FC Sochaux in 2012, I experienced a coaching change in the last third of the season. The new coach that came in was from the club’s academy and stuck with the former coach’s formation, but used his relationship with the players that he had already developed from working with them in the youth system to his advantage.
This method saved the club from relegation. He gave the players confidence and purpose, which allowed them to capitalize on the opportunities being offered. The training sessions were detailed and competitive, making sure that everyone knew what was expected from them. He would constantly be holding conversations with the players so that everyone was on the same page. He stuck to the players that he knew best and his former players fought harder for him because of the faith he showed them.
Armas (center) with his squad | New York Red Bulls
However, at the start of the next season he attempted a completely new system, and changed the players drastically. They got relegated at the end of that campaign.
Armas has been experimenting with new formations and testing players in different positions in recent matches. Most noticeably, he has tinkered with Tyler Adams’ position (playing him at right wing) but he returned him to defensive midfield on Sunday.
It’s clear to me is that this is Adams’ best position. It allows him to focus on what he does well, which is covering ground, breaking up plays and finding the next best option. He isn’t asked to do too much in this role, which allows him to flourish with less pressure on being a playmaker.
In Sunday’s big showdown, the Red Bulls' high press suffocated LAFC. Marsch built this team from the ground up and implemented these tactics, finding players that fit his system. Sticking to Marsch’s ideology is probably the only successful way they can play given the players that are available.
It’s not possible to play with two forwards, and this is not a team that is meant to keep possession — they would be just an average team without their pressing tactics. If they stick to what they know, they can be as dangerous as they’ve ever been heading into the home stretch of 2018.