How quick can a scoring problem be fixed? Perhaps some attackers are about to return from a short injury layoff and can help, or a run of rotten luck will soon correct itself.
But what if you simply don’t have the personnel? Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber is opening his eyes to that possibility.
“We cannot score,” he said after the team’s 1-0 loss last weekend to Chicago. “We had some good moments, but in the end, I miss killers.”
Struber went on to specifically outline some of his issues with the team: rushing things near the goal, sometimes not making the extra pass and not getting enough people in the box.
All of those are common ailments for a soccer team, but only the latter issue may be remotely fixable in a short time span.
The Red Bulls entered their mini two-week vacation with just two wins in their past 10 contests as the team’s problems are largely offense-based. Only nine goals have been scored in that span. Conversely, this 12th-place team has the fifth-best defensive record in the Eastern Conference.
While Struber was somewhat complimentary of his starting forwards — Fabio and Patryk Klimala — after the game, both new arrivals have found goals hard to come by in New York. The cliche of goals “drying up” doesn’t even apply here — the two have never been consistent goal scorers in MLS.
Klimala has four goals since his arrival while Fabio has three, with 2/3 of Fabio’s tallies and three of Klimala’s actually coming during this wretched 10-game stretch. That the pair’s meager scoring output is technically an improvement is a bad omen for a team that’s no longer getting consistent goals from its midfield. That’s how you find yourself dropping from the playoff bubble to the basement of the East (with two games in hand over teams 5-10).
And while this team has struggled to put away its chances, its lack of chance creation is another significant issue — an area where Struber lacks “killers.”
The Red Bulls have underperformed their expected goals of 25.9 by almost three goals (23), per FBref. But even eliminating that slight disparity would leave the team with work to do. The former figure, if converted to per-90, still leaves New York as just the 19th-most creative team in the league.
Put simply, creating lots of chances and finishing them at an average rate is a far more realistic path to success than creating few chances and scoring nearly all of them. Just ask crosstown rivals NYCFC, who have actually been less efficient with their chances despite their success.
The irony of this specific issue is that while Klimala and Fabio shoulder blame for their finishing, they’ve been two of the best creators on the team since joining. They account for most of the team’s assists (four and six, respectively), while simultaneously underperforming on the chances others have created for them. This brings us back to the question; what can actually be fixed over this break?
If Fabio and Klimala are in fact below-average finishers — it’s probably too soon to confidently make that assertion — those instincts and lack of qualities will not be remedied in a two-week span. Even the idea of making the extra pass, which applies to more players than just them, is something largely instinctual, though coaches can drill in certain concepts over time.
What can be tweaked is Struber’s complaint of not having enough bodies in the box — perhaps a more consistent return to a midfield diamond is on the cards — while Frankie Amaya and Dru Yearwood could be more positive options in that part of the field.
These two have recently found starts hard to come by, despite both of them leading the team in shot-creating actions per-90 (Yearwood first, Amaya second). Struber has hinted at Amaya’s inability to adjust to the team’s pressing demands, but perhaps his technical ability could outweigh those concerns. At this point, it looks worth a try.
Struber’s “killers” could be hiding in plain sight.
Taty in the MVP mix?
Things have been going differently for New York’s other MLS team, and the chief reason for that success is forward Taty Castellanos.
NYCFC have lost just once in eight games with five wins and two draws, and Castellanos has six goals and three assists in that span.
After a run of nine games without a goal, Castellanos is back on the mark, and the club is in form. After beating Eastern Conference leaders New England in a comprehensive 2-0 win, NYCFC are just a point behind second place, sitting in fourth with a game in hand over second and third.
New York City are looking like one of the league’s best teams, and Castellanos — the team’s leading scorer (10) and second-leading assister (6) — is their best attacker.
Players like Carles Gil and Raúl Ruidíaz may be the favorites to win MVP, but Castellanos is surely putting himself in the mix with his recent performances.