Red Bulls Defense Tightens Up as Club Surges to Top of the East

New York has allowed only three goals over the past five matches en route to a first place bid

As far as defending goes, there are few teams currently better in Major League Soccer than the New York Red Bulls.

With their 1-0 win at the Columbus Crew on Saturday, the Red Bulls have now conceded just twice in their last three games, and three times in their last five. That defensive success has been the foundation for New York’s four wins in their last five matches and shows just how much progress the backline has made since the start of the season, when they were surrendering plenty of goalscoring chances to opponents.

“The defense has been incredible,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said after the win over the Crew. “As far as the effort that they’ve given for 90 minutes, the way that they’ve worked for each other, the way they’ve covered for each other. If that’s something that we can continue to produce for us this season, we’re going to be dangerous.”

Reasons as to why the defense has been so vastly improved in recent weeks range from Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke settling on a back four in Brandon Barklage, Jámison Olave, Markus Holgersson and Roy Miller to going with a 4-4-2 formation that sets up “two blocks of four” and helps limit the amount of space New York yield.

That’s exactly how the Red Bulls went into Crew Stadium and stymied the likes of Federico Higuaín and Jairo Arrieta for large stretches before Tim Cahill found New York’s late winner.

“We did, defensively, some very good stuff, exactly to the game plan,” Petke said. “We knew that Higuaín would be the one to punish us and Arrieta as well, and we didn’t give Higuain enough time on the ball. We didn’t give him the pockets that he’s used to getting into.

“While it probably wasn’t the most beautiful game to watch, I could care less. It’s three points.”

The defense, and the rest of the team, won't have to wait long for their next challenge. The Red Bulls will host the Montreal Impact on Wednesday before going on the road to take on the New England Revolution on Saturday, and those quick turnarounds will put the whole squad to the test.

“I have to get these guys some rest, so we’ll probably have to make some changes for next game because we have another game three days after that,” Petke said. “It’s not a very forgiving schedule but it’s life. These guys are on a bit of a roll and we have to make sure we capitalize on it.”