HARRISON, N.J. – Mike Petke said over the winter that he wanted his fullbacks pushing into the attack more this season than they did in 2013.
That strategy is bearing fruit.
Bradley Wright-Phillips grabbed most of the headlines following the New York Red Bulls’ 4-0 mauling of the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday for his hat-trick performance, but just as deserving of some of the spotlight were fullbacks Kosuke Kimura and Roy Miller.
Kimura and Miller both delivered stellar performances that showcased their ability to contribute to the attack, with each veteran making several successful forays forward and recording an assist.
Their offensive exploits added a dimension to New York’s attack that has mostly been missing this season, and the end result was the club’s most impressive win of the year to date.
“To me, in modern soccer, you’re not going to win games unless your fullbacks are helping you attack,” said veteran midfielder Dax McCarty. “You can have wingers as much as you want, but at the end of the day, fullbacks are so important in creating width for you and making sure that your team is balanced.
"Both Kosuke and Roy have great engines, they have great motors, they can get up and down the field. Their primary job is to defend, but when we have the ball, we can’t just have six guys attacking. That’s just not going to work for us. We have the players to be able to do it, but we’re going to be at our most dangerous when we can involve our fullbacks and they can make deep runs.”
Those deep runs were executed to a tee on Wednesday night. Kimura and Miller both executed several well-timed overlaps, providing outlets for wide midfielders Lloyd Sam and Eric Alexander, respectively. That allowed New York’s attack to outnumber a frail Dynamo defense that was forced to chase for much of the 90 minutes.
“Sometimes, midfielders in this league, as good as they are, they don’t want to be chasing outside backs all the way down in the corner,” said McCarty. “When Roy and Kosuke put midfielders on their heels, that’s going to be where we’re going to be at our best.
"Attacking is the best form of defending. It sounds cliché, but that’s the truth, and if you have an outside midfielder chasing an outside back on the opposite team up and down the field for 90 minutes, I guarantee you the next time he gets the ball and wants to run at a back line, he’s not going to have the energy to do it.”
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As solid as the duo’s collective performance was, there were still times in which Kimura and Miller bombed forward a little too carelessly. Miller, who also put in a risky late challenge on Houston's Boniek Garcia, was caught upfield multiple times, forcing center back Armando to pull out wide to provide cover for him.
Petke said after the game that his fullbacks still need to find the right balance between attack and defense, but that he has seen progress from the start of the season.
“Tonight was probably the best performance as far as that goes,” said Petke. “But still I think it was a bit too much at times. I think, especially in the first half, they both got a bit carried away and were up by the 18-yard box together, which left us a little bit vulnerable.
"But that’s exactly how we want to play. Is it always going to be pretty? Is it always going to work out? No, not at all. But if we have a starting point of our outside backs getting a bit higher and Dax dropping in, and we keep at it and it gets better and better, you’re going to get more of these games, I hope.”
For now, the Red Bulls can look at Wednesday’s rousing win as the latest building block with regards to their fullbacks’ ability to join the attack.
“He said it in the preseason that he wanted the fullbacks to give the attack more options, to get forward more without fear, and hearing that as a player gives you confidence,” said Miller, who had an assist last week as well.
“Today we demonstrated that, and in previous games, Kosuke and I have tried to give the forwards options, tried to look for crosses, tried to combine. Sometimes the plays come off, sometimes they don’t, but we’re happy, and little by little we’re getting better.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.