BDS: NY has had a slow start to the season with only two wins and six losses. What has changed that has lead to this tough start?
OAM: The official line from the club is basically bad luck explains our woes to date. And that seems to be the preferred conclusion of many analysts who look at consistently favorable possession percentages and chance-creation stats and decree that the slow start is little more than an anomalous sequence, exacerbated by injuries to key players in key positions.
Personally, I'm not so sure. It is true that the team simply hasn't been playing well - finishing has been dismal and our defense is porous and accident prone - and one can certainly ascribe that to loss of form and other factors that might reasonably be described as merely unfortunate. But I think what we have been watching is a team struggle to adapt to an adjusted tactical framework.
The talk in the off-season was of "sophistication": adding variations and complexity to a playing style that we could see opponents adjusting to over the course of 2015. That sophistication was mostly adding a 4-2-2-2 formation to last year's favored 4-2-3-1. It's a proven tactic for teams that play like RBNY, which is to say the other teams in the Red Bull global soccer system: most notably, perhaps, it is the way current Bayer Leverkusen head coach Roger Schmidt made his name when coaching Red Bull Salzburg. We've seemed to focus more on that adjustment than the games we're in, and aspects of it - principally for me, full backs aggressively pushing forward and leaving our center backs to cover a lot of ground if things go awry - have reliably created opportunities for our opponents. They have converted their chances more often than we have converted ours: so we have been losing a lot.
BDS: Until last week, Bradley Wright-Phillips wasn't scoring, what does the team need to do to get him back to his regular scoring ways?
OAM: Until last week, I'd have said he needed some time with the reserves in USL, or simply to be benched for a while. He was woefully out of form in front of goal. The way we play requires him to be, essentially, an equal partner in a four-man attack that shouldn't be unduly dependent on one primary scorer - which is one reason why the answer to the problem was never quite as simple as dropping him to the bench for a bit. His movement creates as much opportunity for others as it does for himself. But he is among the most reliable goal scorers our club has ever seen, so it is to be hoped that he's turned a corner and might start regularly finishing his chances again. He can get isolated in our system, but he's an extremely intelligent player and he will find space and opportunity in most games. So I think last week settles the talk of dropping him and we're back to Plan A: get him the ball and trust he knows what to do with it.
BDS: Do the fans still believe that the Red Bulls can make the playoffs despite this slow start?
OAM: I can't speak for everyone, but we're only eight games in and we only need to finish sixth out of 10 teams to make the playoffs: I get the sense that most RBNY fans still very much believe that minimal standard will be achieved. Speaking for myself, we're the reigning Shield holder and we have the reigning MLS Coach of the Year at the helm: I don't believe we'll make the playoffs, I expect us to.
Projected Lineup: Robles; Lawrence, Zubar, Ouimette, Zizzo; McCarty, Felipe; Grella, Kljestan, Sam; BWP.