FCC returns to TQL to face off against rival Red Bulls

Aaron Boupendza attacks against New York City FC. Photo Courtesy of Joe Craven
Aaron Boupendza attacks against New York City FC. Photo Courtesy of Joe Craven

As FC Cincinnati’s jubilant taunts echoed around Red Bull Arena after last year’s playoff series, for many Red Bull fans, they left with an oft-familiar feeling. They often encountered dejection and betrayal as their hope and pride cruelly stabbed a dagger of failure into their heart. Even looking forward, there was little consolation, as there was a sense that the organization would soothe their wounds with little change.

Interim head coach Troy Lesesne seemed to be in line to have the interim tag removed and become the face of an organization. And the organization was destined to transform the roster by adding young players from their academy and hoping their front office could find talent for a premium.

Instead, the Red Bulls sporting organization decided to step in and remove both Lesesne and long-time GM Denis Hamlett. They then installed Head of Sport Jochen Schneider as the main decision maker and went on a global search for their coach, finding one in ex-Hertha Berlin manager Sandro Schwarz.

The young German manager comes in after a successful pro career where he made over 100 appearances for his home team FSV Mainz 05. After leaving the club, he spent the rest of his career at 2. Bundesliga clubs, before retiring and quickly rising in the coaching ranks. He earned his first head manager job in 2011, two years after his retirement, and soon returned to Mainz where he was the first-team manager in the Bundesliga for three seasons. Eventually, he left the team in the Bundesliga seeking a new opportunity, and after a few false starts, finds himself at the helm in New York.

Red Bulls also decided to try a different approach to their roster build, and instead of operating on a shoestring budget, they brought in former Red Bull Leipzig creator Emil Forsberg to lead the team. The Swedish attacking midfielder joins the MLS side after making 243 appearances and scoring 48 goals, helping lead the team from Bundesliga promotion newbies to routine UEFA Champions League competitors.

For the fans it signaled that the Red Bulls Organization was showing a particular interest in the team for the first time in nearly half a decade, and the results have followed. Their 11 points (3-1-2) through their first six games, and with matches against Columbus, Orlando and Inter Miami already played, this is the best start the team has had since their 2015 Supporters Shield winning season.

But the results haven’t come with their traditional Red Bull press-you-to-death style. They’ve toned down their pressure, and elected to play in the middle of the field and try to use poor turnovers to create fast break opportunities. And the stats have bore this out with Senior MLS Writer Matt Doyle illustrating in his awesome weekly column

Even with their more transition-oriented bent against Miami, the year-over-year numbers from the Red Bulls are striking:

  • 2.3 passes per sequence last year, which was dead last in the league. It’s now 3.2, which is the middle of the pack.
  • 6.0 seconds per passing sequence last year, which was also dead last. That number has climbed to 8.3 seconds, which is 20th.
  • Their passing accuracy has climbed from 71.6%, which was – you guessed it – dead last, to 80.5%, which is 21st.

While their high pressing is still a feature of the team, they no longer try to run down teams’ throats in the hope they can more or less tackle the ball into the net.

It also helps that they have had a bout of fortune as Red Bulls 2022 goal leader, Lewis Morgan, has found a hot streak after missing all of 2023 with injury. He’s scored six goals through six games, including 5 goals in the month of March. Ideally, FCC would like to stop this scoring streak, but Morgan has had their number and scored three times in his five career appearances against the Orange and Blue, and FCC is now without Roman Celentanofor at least this weekend’s matchup.

So with a sense of optimism and hope the New York Red Bulls will enter TQL on Saturday riding a wave of good results and see if this is truly a new era or if it’s the same old Metro.

When: Saturday, April 6, 7:30 p.m.

Where: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH

How to Watch: MLS Season Pass on AppleTV+ (Link to support CST)

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