HANOVER, N.J. — Chris Armas has heard the dialogue, and the criticism, about his decision to not press high in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against Atlanta United.
And the New York Red Bulls coach, who saw his team lose 3-0 on Sunday, defended that decision and explained his rationale after training on Tuesday.
While the high press was successful in a pair of regular-season wins against the Five Stripes, especially in a 2-0 home victory on Sept. 30, Armas said Atlanta have abandoned their build-out-of-the back mentality in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, choosing instead to play long balls out of the back.
“We watched the New York City series, their 20-plus percentage of long balls and that was against New York City. So against us, we really expected direct play, which is exactly what we saw,” Armas said. “So on the day we see 23 percent long from Atlanta without us all-out pressing so if we started pressing them what was it going to be, 30 percent 35 percent? So the idea of not getting stretched, I think was a good one.”
With the understanding that Atlanta were likely to play long out of the back, Armas said pressing from a deeper block made more sense because it gave touches that Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Julian Gressel would have had and gave them to Leonardo Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz instead.
“We thought we had to pick our poison,” Armas said. “We’re not going to get into the entire thinking behind it, but we thought about compressing spaces and taking away where they could be dangerous.”
While it might have seemed unorthodox to some, Armas said the plan was, for the most part successful, until of course Martinez scored in the 32nd minute. After Bradley Wright-Phillips' goal was disallowed in the second half, Atlanta were able to pile on two more goals to open a commanding lead heading into Thursday's second leg (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN2, TVAS2).
“We talked and prepared to be aggressive even from a deeper block,” Armas said. “We let the goal slip that way, but it's still a cross that we can maybe deal with. I know there's dialogue out there, but again we know on the inside with some of the pressing that we press also from deeper areas.”
Plus, Armas said, “all-out pressing” high up the field, reduces numbers in the midfield to win second balls.
“I would have went against every logic and every common sense thing knowing they’re going to play direct and have less guys to deal with second balls on the road in Leg 1,” Armas said. “I thought we thought about it the right way. I’m pleased with the work leading up, but I’m not pleased with the result.”