Can New York Red Bulls find right balance to beat Chivas?
A one-goal deficit heading into a second leg typically represents a few conundrums for a manager. How much do you push, when do you push and with whom? Chase too much and you risk leaving yourself exposed defensively -- but passivity isn't the answer, either. There must be balance in all phases to achieve the desired result.
That is the challenge facing New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch heading into Tuesday's second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals against C.D. Guadalajara, with the Liga MX side holding a 1-0 advantage.
Marsch's options are limited to a degree, as both midfielder Alex Muyl and defender Aurélien Collin are suspended, but the calculus remains much the same. Marsch has toggled between five- and four-man defensive systems so far this season, and he could slide Fidel Escobar in to take Collin's place and keep the same shape from the first leg. But the need for goals due to the first-leg deficit requires a bit more offensive heft, meaning a back-four ought to be used. While Marsch isn't one to tip his hand, he did hint that his team will look to take more of the initiative on Tuesday.
"I know now that when we get back at home, that we'll be the aggressor, that we'll be the team that goes after the game and we'll find a way to put it on our terms and go after it," he told reporters following Saturday's training session.
The wild card is Alejandro "Kaku" Gamarra. The attacking midfielder was signed to a Young Designated Player contract in the offseason, and Marsch has been breaking him in slowly. The Argentine has started three league matches but has been limited to a substitute role in the CCL, and while he did bag a goal against Tijuana in the quarterfinal round, he didn't get off the bench in the first leg against Chivas. The extra dose of creativity provided by Kaku could be precisely what is needed to unpick Chivas' organized defense.
"Kaku continues to push himself every day and get acclimated more and more and more," said Marsch. "In some of these situations, just because we know there is a specific, tactical game plan in place, he's still adapting to a lot of the tactics, but there's no doubt he's going to be a big player here.
"If we weren't down a man late in the [first leg], it might have been a different story where we could see if we could put him on the field and help make a play. But given what the game plan was and what we needed down there, I think the decision to not start him wasn't easy but one that made sense. Now we'll have to adjust and see how he factors in for this week."
Another option is to simply slide Derrick Etienne into Muyl's spot. Etienne is a Red Bulls academy product and is well versed in the team's tactical approach, especially in terms of when to press and when to back off. That might back for more of a seamless transition from Muyl and provide a bit more pace. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Etienne start the match with Kaku entering later.
As for Chivas, they will be missing a starter as well in defender Jair Pereira, whose ill-advised choke hold on Sean Davis resulted in a two-game suspension. He'll be replaced by Carlos Salcido, who is hugely experienced but lacks Pereira's ability in the air. The Red Bulls aren't exactly a team to attack the opposition penalty area with crosses, but New York has some big targets on set pieces in Aaron Long and Tim Parker, which means Pereira's absence could be more keenly felt in those situations.
"Salcido will step in and do a great job, but he doesn't bring the same physical qualities," said Marsch. "It's our job on the day to put their back line under a bit more pressure and find ways to see if we can punish them."
Given Chivas' popularity among Mexican expatriates in the New York area, there figures to be a sizable contingent of opposition fans at Tuesday's match, which will eat into the Red Bulls' home-field advantage. The weather could be an even bigger factor, however, as game-time temperature is expected to be in the high 30s, though the rain predicted during the day should abate by then.
Regardless, Marsch isn't expecting Chivas to change its style, even on the road. Guadalajara showed off its ability to punish teams in transition during the first leg, when a poor pass by Tyler Adams sparked a two-on-one counterattack that was finished by Isaac Brizuela.
"They will come here, they will be combative, they will play man-to-man, they will be aggressive to press, they will play the same way they always do," he said. "The key for us will be to take some situations and some matchups and see if we can take advantage and now put things a little bit more on our terms with the ball."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.