DAVENPORT, Fla. – In last season’s Supporters’ Shield winning campaign, the New York Red Bulls were far from the flashiest team in MLS, nor the most glamorous.


But what they lacked in “star-power” they made up for with remarkable consistency. Save for a four-game stretch from late May to June where the team dropped four straight, the Red Bulls never lost two games in a row. In fact—after the aforementioned swoon—New York never went more than one game without picking up all three points, quite a remarkable feat.


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Looking back, it’s fairly easy to pick out the key elements to their successful run of form. Their consistency stemmed from head coach Jesse Marsch and his commitment to their tactical approach. From matchday one in Kansas City to their season finale against Columbus Crew SC in the playoff ouster, the team took the field in a 4-2-3-1 formation.


Furthermore, the starting XI varied just slightly from week to week, with the only changes coming in the form of an international call-up or injury forcing a regular out of the lineup. Over the course of the 2015 campaign, more than half of the starting lineup (Mike Grella, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Felipe and Luis Robles) earned 30 or more starts.


Needless to say, it was a recipe for success. However, it wasn’t exactly perfect. While they managed to impose their will throughout the majority of their matches, it did not always translate to three points in the league table. As the season wore on, opposing teams had more and more examples on how to counteract New York’s set up.


But throughout the team’s preseason camp in Florida, Marsch and his staff have begun to employ a new tactical setup.


“We’re just building more sophistication into how we do things tactically,” Marsch explained. “It gives us more flexibility into what our emphasis is tactically when switching from formation to formation. I think it’s been good for us because a lot of the emphasis is the same; it’s just that some of the arrangement is a little bit different.”


After struggling to find their attacking form in the Eastern Conference Championship series against Columbus, it became apparent that the Red Bulls would need to switch things up against opponents looking to bunker in defensively. Through the introduction of a 4-2-2-2 formation, a new wrinkle has been added to an already potent attacking core.


Now, it seems, New York finally has an alternative.


“We need to be able to have a “Plan B” when we play against teams,” McCarty said after the team’s 5-0 win over the Montreal Impact on Thursday. “We dominated a lot of games last year playing the way that we play and the style that we play. But we saw in the playoffs that our attack became a little bit stale.


“Teams are going to scout us; they’re going to know how to play against a formation that we’re very good at. But if we can have a different plan of attack, if we can switch up our formation a little bit, if we can play with two forwards to show teams a different setup, I think we can become very dangerous.”


The framework is not an entirely new concept for the Red Bulls, as the returning players from the previous year already have an understanding of what the final product should look like. Still, it will take some time in order for the team to fully internalize this new approach and implement it properly in a game setting.


“We’re only two weeks into working on it and there are a lot of kinks to work out,” McCarty admitted. “It’s not perfect by any means, but I think we have good enough players where we can deal with it and try to figure out different ways of coming at teams.”


While still holding on to what made the team tick in 2015, the new formation offers a way to tweak what has already proven to be a successful game plan, giving the side an ace in the hole, should they need to draw upon it. The results matter little in preseason, but so far, the returns are encouraging.


“If we can have a bigger ability to use different formations, to use players in different ways, then we can keep other teams guessing as to how to deal with us,” Marsch added. “We think that’s important.”