New York Red Bulls thinking long and hard over set-piece taking, defending after mixed success early on

HANOVER, N.J. – As a new regime took hold in Harrison at the start of the season, a more analytical and tactical approach was promised. Just four games into the season, the New York Red Bulls are already using those metrics to their advantage.

In their comeback draw against D.C. United on Saturday, the Red Bulls conceded a goal from a Taylor Kemp corner kick, but also found the net twice from set pieces of their own. While one game may be a small sample size, this trend of set pieces being so effective has hardly been a coincidence, as head coach Jesse Marsch recently pointed out.

“We’ve calculated that 32 percent of goals so far in the league have been from set pieces; that’s obviously a very high percentage,” Marsch said. “So we want to make sure that we address that area of the game in the right way and that the details we put into everything else we also put into set pieces.”

New York is keenly aware of just how valuable set piece opportunities can be. Of the four goals they’ve conceded in 2015, half of them have come via dead-ball situations, a fact not lost on Marsch.

“I liked that we scored two and I didn’t like that we gave up one,” Marsch said about the 2-2 draw vs. D.C. “We think that if we can iron out the details of set pieces, with the way that we’re able to play in the run of game. If we can also be good on set pieces then that is a recipe for success in this league.

“[Against D.C.] we went away from the designed short corners and went more to putting the ball into the box and trying to win match-ups. We’ll continue to figure out—based on whichever team we’re playing—how we handle set pieces. We like to use some creativity and some just direct.”

On the attacking end, midfielder Felipe has been handed nearly all of the corner kick and free kick opportunities. Having mixed success so far, the Brazilian acknowledges the importance that set pieces pose over the course of a season, and continues to work on his craft.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t that good,” Felipe admitted. “I wasn’t putting a lot of good balls in, but I’ve been working much more on the set pieces because it’s important in this league. A lot of teams score off of set pieces. Every week it’s getting better, so I hope to continue to improve on myself, to put in good balls, and to give a chance for our defenders and other guys to score goals.”

In his fifth season in New York, captain Dax McCarty knows more than most the struggles that Red Bulls teams of the past have endured with set pieces on both sides of the ball. Although the personnel has changed greatly from those squads, McCarty is determined to ensure this Red Bulls team does not repeat those same mistakes.

“It’s a big emphasis for the whole league,” McCarty stated. “Set pieces are obviously very important in the modern game; not just in MLS, but if you look at the world game, set pieces are so important and so crucial in how teams concede goals and score goals. We want to be a team that’s on the better end of that.

“We need to be a team that’s constantly dangerous on corner kicks, on set pieces, but we need to improve defensively and make sure we don’t concede any more goals.”