(HARRISON, NJ)The New York Red Bulls victory over the New England Revolution was significant but ugly. The Revs did all of the things that have troubled NY over the last two years, yet still could not keep the ball out of their net. Remaining compact and forcing the game out wide, while patiently waiting for counter attacking opportunities is the bane of all things RBNY. So how is it that the Red Bulls managed to capture all three points?
Three Things I Noticed – Sean Davis
Sean Davis is potentially the best passer on the team when it comes to maintaining possession. Since he has become a starter for the Red Bulls, his numbers are staggering. In all three of his four starts he has attempted at least 38 passes a game. He had his worst game against New England only completing 84% of his passes. In his other two matches in that stretch I studied, he completed 93.9% and 95.6% of his passes (I ignored the D.C. United game as passing was inhibited by onfield conditions for all players.). Passing accuracy without context is a mostly worthless number. Only by viewing his offensive output can the passing stats be quantified.
In his four starts during Dax McCarty’s injury, Sean has four key passes and three assists. By comparison, McCarty has just two assists in 21 games. However, it is not just the passes that lead to a goal that Davis does well. He finds ways to open up the game that are not translating into the score sheet or stat column There was a moment against New England where the Red Bulls had compressed the field. Davis received the ball and set off the attack with a gorgeous long ball to Mike Grella. See exhibit A:
In the above example, note the positions of Davis (a), Felipe (b), and Mike Grella (c). Ronald Zubar plays the ball forward to Davis. Instead of turning up the field immediately, he has a good read on the current positioning of his team and he sends it back out wide to Chris Duvall. This is a common play from a deep lying midfielder, so no surprise yet. Let’s take a look at how he moves after he plays the ball out wide.
As you can see now, Grella has actually drifted further wide away from his fullback. Duvall has the ball and is about to play it to Felipe. Davis has opened up a hole in the middle of the field by dragging midfielders to track his initial run across the middle of the field. Now he sees the hole he created and moves back into it before Felipe receives the pass.
Felipe plays it forward to Alex Muyl. Muyl sees Davis is wide open. Side note, this is a brilliant example of game “feel”. Essentially, the longer you play with someone, the more you can read their movements and positioning. Muyl and Davis, both academy players have had a lot of opportunities to play together. When Davis receives the ball, there are no defenders within five yards of him. This allows him ample time and space to receive the ball and send it to the patiently waiting in space Grella. The result is another direct assault on the goal.
Grella ultimately was unable to send his cross in, but the setup was perfect. Again, there is no way to quantify that into the stat sheet.
The other thing Davis is very good at his having a reliable first touch with purpose. What do I mean? When Davis receives the ball, he is often times under considerable pressure. He has a great gift for being able to relieve that danger with a very calculated first, and sometimes second, touch. Sometimes that means staying patient while reading the game.
Very early in the first half, Grella played a soft pass to Davis. Teal Bunbury and Lee Ngyuen read the pass and quickly reacted to closing it down.
Some players might panic in that situation and go to the ball (1). Instead, Davis lets the ball roll to him, and use his body to shield it from Nguyen who he sees coming as he turns inside. He also picks his head up to see his options (2).Not happy with what he has, he waits until Bunbury and Ngyuen are just about on top of him and he cuts the ball back (3).
Both defenders can’t stop fast enough and now he is able to move the ball back up field in the attack (4). Next time you watch the Red Bulls take note of this trait. Davis is a master of it, and it is the difference between a costly turnover and an offensive opportunity a large portion of the time.
Admittedly, this is probably the weakest part of Davis’ game. He doesn’t quite offer the same bite in midfield that the “Ginger Ninja” has in the past. However, he makes up for his ability in this area with energy and work rate. Take this example from the second half of the game against New England. Davis started an attack that could have broken open the scoreless game.
Gershon Koffie received the ball and performed a similar move to the one I mentioned above by Davis in the second section of this article. In this case, Muyl and Kljestan were left in the dust and Koffie had setup a good run forward. Davis read it, and was really the only player who could make a play on the ball.
Davis was also in the position to hurt the Red Bulls had he missed the tackle. The Revs would have broken out on a 5v4 counter, good odds for a team currently struggling to score. However, Davis stepped up into the hole and made a perfect tackle.
The result is a 4v3 in the other direction. The Revs backline was caught spread out and susceptible to a counter attack. The attack failed at the final pass from Muyl to Wright-Phillips as the ball was hit just a bit hard. So while Davis is not known for his defensive work, he is capable and smart about how he pressures the ball. Most of the time, it is with an eye toward creating attacking opportunities for his teammates.
Most of what I’ve talked about here is lost in the ether. Nothing comes of these plays, although not for the want of trying. Davis is able to balance defensive responsibility while adding offensive bite in a way that very few young players in this league do. While he is still down the depth chart thanks to the now commonplace heroics of Dax McCarty (Which seems to be taken for granted these days.), it is clear that the future is bright for the young man from Holmdel. Expect to see Davis as a staple of the midfield for the next decade or so.