As the showdown against Atlanta United fast approaches, the New York Red Bulls continue their preparations ahead of their MLS is Back Tournament debut this Saturday.
Head Coach Chris Armas, captain Sean Davis and USMNT defender Aaron Long shared their impressions with the media on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re really excited, and of course against Atlanta United, we’ll be tested early in the tournament, but we probably would have drew it up that way if we could have,” said Armas.
“It’s a perfect start for us, we know how intense this game is going to be, we know them very well,” added Long. “They know us very well, so there’s not going to be any surprises. It’s just going to feel like we’re going to get back into things right away. It’s going to be a fast start to this tournament. I think it’s a good way to set us up on the right foot for the rest of this tournament if we do well.”
Davis believes the rivalry with Atlanta United is special because “it wasn’t built before even a game started.”
“When I think about our rivalry with Atlanta, it’s very authentic, it’s very real,” said the Red Bulls captain. “It wasn’t built before a game even started, it’s been all because the games have been so competitive, so demanding. There’s never a dull moment in the rivalry, so I think that there’s a strong foundation there; there’s a clash of styles.
“It’s hard to rank the rivalries because I do think we have other awesome match-ups when you think about New York City FC, but I do think Atlanta is up there. I think it’s a game that both teams really get up for, and both teams, as far as the players go, are really excited and pumped to play against each other. I think it has all the makings to be a great rivalry in this league for a long time, and I can speak on behalf of our guys, that we couldn’t be more excited to start the tournament against a team like Atlanta.”
This meeting between the Red Bulls and Atlanta will be the seventh regular-season match, so the amount of knowledge both teams have of each other is endless.
“We feel that we know Atlanta well. Knowing them well, then having to play against them, it’s two different things because they’re a well-coached team,” said Armas. “The system is strong, the demands of how Frank [de Boer] has them play. They can use the ball, they also can counter-press and play against the ball; they’re not easy to break down, and they can do different things. We’ve seen the way they play three in the back, they play like a 3-4-2-1, with [Ezequiel] Barco and Pity [Martínez] in the 10s. They can play those guys up top, like a 5-3-2. We’ve seen they can play four in the back, they drop a six, and it looks like five in the back.
“No matter what they do, I think they’re a team where Brad Guzan can build from the back, he’s very comfortable. They’re a team that can control games with possession, and then if they can move the ball up the field and move you around, with the rotations. They have some sophistication in their attack, so we have to understand that, and then execute. I think that our style of play can meet theirs halfway and oftentimes, like in their place last year, 3-3, it could have gone either way.”
In a setting where the players will be able to communicate because there won’t be the crowd noise of Red Bull Arena or Mercedes-Benz Stadium, communication will be crucial, as noted by Davis.
“Communication, being able to talk, not only the backline, the midfielders, the forwards, that’s going to be really important,” said Davis. “It’s always important with our style, there’s so many little details we need to stay on top of.”
Long likes where the team stands as they prepare for their first match in Group E.
“I think we have a great team, we have a great roster, we have self-belief coming within, we have healthy guys, and we’re hungry,” he said.