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Match Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Santos FC

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For all the attention that the opening of Red Bull Arena is getting, and deservedly so, there is indeed a match being played there tonight. The Red Bulls open their stadium by hosting Brazilian power Santos FC in front of what will be a sold out crowd of 25,000 fans. Unfortunately, each team's best player will not play. Juan Pablo Angel will sit for the Red Bulls and Brazilian International Robinho will not play for Santos, with both players nursing injuries. You can't really blame each of the clubs at all for not risking further damage for an exhibition.

Santos is enjoying a great start to their season, as they lead the Brazilian 2010 Paulista with 32 points through 14 matches. They lost their last tilt, 4-3 to Palmeiras, in the match that Robinho supposedly got injured in, but have certainly been in great form. With Robinho not playing, the player the Red Bulls will be most concerned with is Neymar, the 18 year old forward who will likely be playing his trade somewhere in Europe in the next few years. Neymar has 27 goals in 65 appearances for Santos, which is a lot of appearances and tallies for such a young player. The Santos defense, outside of longtime player Leo, is relatively inexperienced. Expect to see lots of Santos' more inexperienced players in this exhibition match, maybe something the Red Bulls can take advantage of.

For the Red Bulls, they've already won more games this preseason than they did in the entire 2009 MLS regular season. A Conor Chinn brace in the Red Bulls' last preseason match against Miami FC improved the team's preseason record to 6-0-3. Last year, the team won 5 games. They're scorching hot right now. In all seriousness, it will be very interesting to see how the Red Bulls lineup under new head coach Hans Backe. Expect the Red Bulls to come out in a 4-4-2 formation as they have all preseason. MLSsoccer.com's Kristian Dyer reported that during the team's practice at Red Bull Arena on Friday, the starting 11 looked as follows:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------Coundoul-----------------------------------------------------------------------

--------------------Hall------------------------------Petke------------------------------------Ream---------------------------Miller---------------

-------------Richards---------------------------Robinson---------------------------Lindpere-----------------------------Kandji---------------

-------------------------------------------------------------Salou--------------------Wolyniec--------------------------------------------------------

A player to watch out for is rookie defender Tim Ream. Players and coaches alike speak very highly of him as he has impressed during the preseason. Mike Petke went as far as saying that Ream reminded him of himself, and that he believes Ream is further along as a rookie than he was. That's pretty high praise from a very well respected and succesful MLS defender. One of Ream's strengths according to Backe and striker John Wolyniec is his ability to distribute from the back. Anyone who watched about ten minutes of a Red Bulls match last season would have seen that the distribution from the back was downright terrible. A tandem of Ream and Petke in the middle could be a very solid group, as long as Ream lives up to the preseason hype and progresses well.

The midfield is a very interesting spot for this team. New signee, Estonian Joel Lindpere is a versatile guy who can play both centrally or out on the left flank. In the lineup in practice, one of the surprising omissions from the possible starting lineup is Seth Stammler. The midfielder has been a fixture in the Red Bulls lineup for years now, and is a very capable defensive midfielder. With the addition of Carl Robinson, it seems for now that Stammler might be the odd man out. This creates great competition between the two, and certainly adds depth, but it will be interesting to see where Backe goes here. Dane Richards on the right side, despite his shortcomings, is a no brainer. The Red Bulls need for a left sided midfielder is apparent, as Mac Kandji looks like he might get the nod there. Kandji has been inconsistent at best in his Red Bulls career, showing flashes of brilliance and skill and disappearing for long stretches. His natural position is as a forward, and you'd like to see him stay there.

Without Angel, John Wolyniec and trialist Ibrahim Salou were the starting forwards in practice. Expect to see rookie Conor Chinn, who has played well in preseason, to see significant time. Also expect rookies Tony Tchani and Austin Da Luz to see some time in the midfield as they fight for playing time come the regular season.

Prediction

The Red Bulls will feed off the excitement of playing in their brand new stadium and will take a 2-1 decision. Joel Lindpere and Conor Chinn will get the goals for the Red Bulls, while Neymar tallies for the visitors. A new era for the Red Bulls starts with a win.

I'll be at the match and providing some commentary on the Once A Metro Twitter page. Be sure to check back after the match for plenty of post-match analysis and recap. It should be a memorable night.