The Red Bulls (non) Preview
I am not writing up my normal preview for this game because we play RBNY in a couple weeks at home (6/11). My normal, way-too-long-preview will come out for that match. The Cup games are always harder to talk about because you never know how seriously a team will take them, though I do think RBNY is going for this title. With that said, I did want to give a few of my thoughts about Sunday's game, along with some broad thoughts about RBNY.
First, Sunday's game was a frustrating one for me. I'll preface my frustrations by saying I probably just need to find more joy in the 3 points, but man did I want us to put a good number of goals past that team. A lot has been (rightly) made of the absence of ALL of Vancouver's goalkeepers, but lost in that was the absence of their DP striker (Cavallini), one of their starting CBs (Nerwinski), and a solid rotation piece (Vite), amongst others. This was not a team anywhere near full strength. The early goal for Vancouver actually didn't worry me too much. It's not something you want happening, for sure, but I'd much rather a 1st minute goal than an 81st. I had every confidence that we'd find goals--we just didn't find as many as I thought.
Second, that was a penalty right? I was in the supporters' section, so I'm seeing it live and fast, but when asking about it on Twitter, I got linked to this:
As @CharlotteFC_NEWS said, maybe the ref believes Jóźwiak is going down, which nullifies the penalty. I (along with NEWS) think that's wrong. To me, it's clumsy by Berhalter (#16), as he comes into the back/side of Jóźwiak when Jóźwiak has already taken the ball past him. Is Kamil looking for the foul? I believe so. Does that mean it's not one? No. Anywhere else on the field that is a foul, no doubt, but the ref here swallows his whistle. If this is given, it changes the game.
Which leads into my third point of this game. That ref...he calls nothing on the Jóźwiak penalty (and VAR barely looks at it), but everything else in this game was a foul. He called 19 fouls in this game and, more importantly from a Charlotte perspective, 16 of them were against the home side. Yet, he only gave out 1 yellow. I have two issues:
A very clear bias towards the home side. Now, maybe we are a team that fouls more, but this disparity is ridiculous (I also can't remember a time when a team only committed 3 fouls in an entire game). I think we are very much a team that is gaining a reputation for fouling, which isn't necessarily going to be helpful. Over the past few games, only against Montréal were more fouls called for an opponent than us (I only went back to the Colorado match).
If we truly committed 16 fouls, why in the world is there only 1 yellow given? That is a sign of bad game management by the referee. If a team is that out of control with their fouling, you need to do something about it. He never did. If I'm a Vancouver fan, I'd be wondering why the ref wasn't doing more to protect Whitecap players (i.e., giving out more yellows).
It leaves us with a ref who is either 1) biased towards one side or 2) not in control of the game. Maybe both. Either way, I can't help but question this ref and wonder how different the game may have been--both positively and negatively for Charlotte--if it were a different (better) one.
My final thought is I LOVED the trio of Shiniyashiki-Świderski-Jóźwiak. I was actually a bit surprised to see Jóźwiak on the right and Shinyashiki on the left, but I thought it worked beautifully. I worried that we'd end up with two players who want to be too central too much of the time, but that wasn't the case.
Below are the heatmaps for Shinyashiki's entire season so far, his heatmap for just the Vancouver game, and Jóźwiak's heatmap for the Vancouver game.
Shinyashiki really kept the width well, while also coming central at times to allow overlaps from Mora. Meanwhile, I thought Afful and Jóźwiak looked really good as a pair on the right side. I still like Lindsey, but having Afful pushing him for time is a good thing and I think Afful has earned a start against Seattle. Jóźwiak is going to be a problem for this league once he learns it. He was cooking people on Sunday.
When looking at Andre's heatmap versus Vancouver and comparing it to his season, we're obviously asking him to play a much more specific role than Colorado did. In fact, I looked at his individual game heatmaps in the MLS since he joined and he's not central. Obviously, part of this is because of Świderski and midfield depth, but I think it's also because Andre is 1) versatility and 2) willing to/capable of playing whatever position MAR wants. Both traits are hugely valuable.
I won't really touch on Vargas' debut because, while I thought it looked really good, he came on in the 2nd, which meant he was on the opposite side of the pitch from where I was. I would have to watch the replay to give anything other than this: he looks really exciting. I will also say that I think his quick inclusion in the side shouldn't be ignored, as it has to indicate that MAR must really rate him.
RBNY come into this game 5th in the East on 20 points (in 13 games), 20 goals (on 23.4 xG), and 14 goals allowed (on 16.9 xGA). They're playing well.
They beat Hartford Athletic of the USLC in the 3rd round 2-1 and DC United 3-0 in the round of 32 (at DC, no less). They also appear to be taking this competition seriously. I admittedly only looked at their lineup for their last league game against Miami and then their lineups for the two US Cup games, but there are a number of players who have played in all of the games. This includes their goalkeeper, Ryan Meara. It should be noted that before the Miami game, Meara had not started a league game. Others who have played in the Miami game and the cup games include the Nealis brothers (Sean and Dylan), center half Aaron Long, midfielders Franuel Amaya, Dru Yearwood, and Amir Fernandez. Their striker Patryk Klimala and midfielder/forward Lewis Morgan started in the Hartford game and Miami game, while midfielder Luquinhas and left back John Tolkin have each started both US Cup games. Tom Barlow, a striker, go the nod versus DC. Cristian Cásseres Jr. is the only regular for RBNY who hasn't started the Cup games, although he did come in as a sub versus Hartford. Really, they're starting at most two players who aren't regular, first team members in these cup games. If Charlotte want to advance in this competition, we're going to need to put out a strong lineup.
Morgan is their leader in goals on the year at 5. That's already tied with his MLS career high in 2020 with Miami. The only other times he's had more goals was in the Scottish Championship (i.e., second division) where he had 6 in 2016-17 and 14 in 2017-18. Last year was a down year for Morgan, with only 2 goals and an assist in 34 appearances. He's usually providing at least 5 assists a year, or at least he has done that whenever he's gotten playing time.
Klimala is their second leading scorer with 4 on the season. The Polish striker is in his 2nd year with RBNY and is coming off an 8 goal, 6 assist season. Three of those goals were via penalty, though, and one of his goals this year is also via penalty. He's never been a prolific striker, with last year's 8 goals being a career high (he did have 7 goals, none of which were penalties, in 2019-20), but he's also only 23 so expectations are high.
No one else on the team has more than 2 goals, while Fernandez and Klimala are tied for the team lead with 3 assists.
Meara is their backup keeper even though he did get the start against Miami. Does this mean we'll see their starter Carlos Coronel tonight? I have no idea. Meara has played in both cup games, so I would anticipate him playing there today, but if Coronel does start, it means that RBNY is really looking to make a run in this competition.
The 31 year old Meara has never been a consistent starter in his career. He's only made double digit appearances 3 times in his career: 18 apps in 2012 with RBNY, 21 apps in 2016 with RBNY II in the USL, and 13 apps in 2020 with RBNY. He's a good backup, as he has a career 72.8% save percentage and had a +0.8 PSxG+/- last year.
Coronel (25) is Red Bull through and through, having played with RB Salzburg from 2019-21 and then the last two years with RBNY. Maybe RB Leipzig is next for him. He's only really gotten a lot of playtime with RBNY, making 34 starts last year. Before then his career high was 8 for USL Championship side Bethlehem. He had a 73.9 save percentage and a +4.2 PSxG+/- last year, so he was good. His save percentage is down to 68.6% this year and his PSxG+/- is at -0.2 in his 12 starts this year, which may indicate regression or a slow start. I'm not completely sure since, overall, he has so little playing time in his career.
With a cross country flight to Seattle after this match, I'm curious who MAR will pick for this game. Ríos seems the logical starter at striker, but with Reyna out, the wings become interesting. Świderski has also already left for international duty (and I think marriage?), so we're kind of thin up top all of a sudden (at least in terms of experienced strikers). I wonder if we'll stick with a 4-3-3 or if we might turn back to a 4-4-2. Either way, I'd like Gaines, Ruiz, Jones, and Bender to start this game.
I'm not confident we get any points in Seattle, so having players like Shinyashiki and Jóźwiak play a lot of minutes against RBNY wouldn't really bother me (not that I think that's likely). Vargas is an interesting candidate to start, but I think it's more likely he gets significant minutes off the bench. I don't know what the status of Christopher Hegardt is, but if he's fit again, this could be a good game to get his legs going as a sub. He's been kind of a forgotten player on this team.
I'm not in the habit of guessing what MAR will do; rather, I like to say what lineups I want to see. Below would be my preference for a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 while acknowledging that I don't expect to be correct about most of it:
While Vargas' debut was good and I expect him to play this game, it does seem like a big ask for him to basically immediately start. I wouldn't be surprised if he's the first off the bench. We have to get players like Bender and Franco going again and I'd like to see them both play 90 minutes. If it's Walkes instead of Makoun for the CB pairing, that's fine too.
I do want us to go for the win in this game, so if we need a goal or two, bringing on the likes of Shinyashiki and Jóźwiak early in the 2nd wouldn't bother me. I don't want to kill their legs for Seattle, but, again, I'm not overly confident we get anything out of that game even without a midweek cup game.
Everyone always worries about fatigue, but these are professional players. They should have the legs for a midweek and weekend game every once and a while. Plus, we have some time between the Seattle and RBNY league game for them to rest up. As such, bringing Shinyashiki and Jóźwiak on for Ríos, Gaines, and/or a midfielder (if we're in a 4-4-2) would be my preferred route.
My head tells me not to expect a win, but my heart says our road issues won't show up in a stadium that holds 10 fans.
Prediction: RBNY 1 - Charlotte 2