PLAYERS TO WATCH
This is an easy one.
The two players to watch are attacking midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who was named captain after the departure of Dax McCarty, and striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. Consider this: Kljestan led MLS with 20 assists last year and Wright-Phillips led MLS with 24 goals.
That speaks for itself.
Kljestan and Wright-Phillips, who spent time in the English Premier League with Manchester City and Southampton FC, are probably the most dangerous attacking duo in the league. If the ‘Caps can contain them, they’ll very likely be headed to the semifinals.
If not, they might be in tough.
If they stick to what they’ve done during the preseason, we can expect New York to line up in a 4-2-2-2 formation, which is pretty uncommon when it comes to Major League Soccer.
See their predicted lineup below, courtesy of MLSsoccer.com’s Matthew Doyle.
This formation makes New York extremely solid in the middle of the park, both going forward and defensively. But it also makes them quite narrow, which could create some space for the likes of Alphonso Davies, Kekuta Manneh, and Cristian Techera on the wings.
It should be an intriguing tactical battle, either way.
STYLE OF PLAY
The Red Bulls are known for their high-press. Heck, it’s been plastered on their website the last few weeks: “The sporting direction for the New York Red Bulls has evolved to focus on a young, energetic, high-pressing and aggressive style of play,” it reads.
So what exactly does that mean?
First and foremost, it means they won’t give Vancouver’s defenders any time on the ball to make plays. Here’s how MLSsoccer.com’s Kristian Dyer described New York’s high press last year.
“The concept takes the idea of defending and moves it into the opponent’s half, where the players at the top of the formation do a lot of hard running and harassing of the backline and deep-lying midfielders into mistakes and turnovers, with the hope of converting those into goals.”
Sounds pretty good, right? It certainly can be – see New York’s 7-0 win over NYCFC last season.
As Dyer notes, however, it also requires a “high level of fitness,” which the Red Bulls may or may not have this early in the season. If the ‘Caps are smart and decisive with the ball, it could tire out the Red Bulls in the early going and potentially give them the advantage late in the match.
Kickoff for Wednesday's match is set for 5 p.m. PT at Red Bull Arena (watch live on the CONCACAF Facebook Page). Whitecaps FC will then host the decisive second leg on Thursday, March 2 (7 p.m. PT at BC Place – get your tickets today).