Before we take a look at the opening match of the season for the Red Bulls, first a few notes:
-The Red Bulls officially signed the rookie trio of Tim Ream, Conor Chinn, and Irving Garcia.
Signing Ream was a no brainer based on his play in the preseason. Ream has solidified a starting job in the Red Bulls back line, and is instantly their most capable distributing defender. He'll start in central defense with Mike Petke, and can learn a lot from the veteran. Soon enough, Ream may be playing his trade elsewhere. Until then, he'll be a great asset for the Red Bulls going forward. Chinn has enjoyed a great preseason scoring run, which included a brace against Miami FC. He'll compete for forward minutes off the bench with John Wolyniec and newly signed Ibrahim Salou. Garcia was a fourth round pick, and will most likely be a bench player for the bulk of the season. Still, it's good to see the Red Bulls ink up some young talent.
-The Red Bulls also signed academy product Juan Agudelo. Signing a player from the academy is a big deal in more ways than one. From a technical standpoint, Agudelo will not count as one of the Red Bulls 24 roster players because he is a home-grown talent, which is a positive for the team. Also, signing academy and home-grown players, as the Red Bulls did last year when they signed Giorgi Chirgadze, is a great step forward in improving the league itself. Not all team's have academies, but what the Red Bulls are doing by locking up their own players is a blueprint that many teams will want to follow in future years. Agudelo has had a good preseason, and can now improve by training every day with the first team. I suspect we'll see him get some minutes this season.
Now on to the match, where Red Bull Arena will finally host a game that counts for something, when the Chicago Fire come to town tomorrow night to kick off both teams' MLS seasons.
Both clubs come into the season with a host of changes, including changes at the top. Carlos de los Cobos takes over for Denis Hamlett as head coach of the Fire after guiding the El Salvador national team for four years. Former Fulham striker Collins John is on board as well, and could form a good combination with his former Fulham teammate Brian McBride at the forward position.
But for the Fire, the question remains, do the arrivals outweigh the departures? While de los Cobos has brought in John, El Salvadoran midfielder Julio Martinez and young Polish defender Krzysztof Krol, many Fire mainstays have moved on. Gone is Chris Rolfe (who always seemed to kill the Red Bulls) Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Gonzalo Segares and Brandon Prideaux. Just this week, veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch was let go, leaving young Andrew Dykstra between the posts.
Historically speaking, the Red Bulls have been awful against the Fire. In recent years, the Fire have dominated New York, with the Red Bulls last beating Chicago in September of 2007. Since then, the Red Bulls are 0-5-1 against the Fire. Although some of the Fire's key players have moved on, they still appear to be a tough out in MLS this season. The Red Bulls won't be dealing with another team who didn't want to be there, as they did with Santos last weekend. And of course, this one is for real.
For the Red Bulls, expect to see a similar starting lineup than the one that trotted out last weekend against Santos. Coundoul will start in net and the back four of Jeremy Hall, Tim Ream, Mike Petke, and Roy Miller should stay intact. According to Dylan Butler of the New York Post, Dane Richards showed no ill effects from the injury he sustained against Santos, and should start the game in midfield, along with Joel Lindpere, who will play centrally. Carl Robinson will go if he's healthy, and if that's the case, Sinisa Ubiparipovic will play on the left flank, keeping the midfield the same as well. Striker and captain Juan Pablo Angel still remains a quesion, but I would bet that he'll go. I don't think Angel wants to miss another landmark game for the club, and he's been resting a while since enduring an injury at the reckless hands of Julian de Guzman in a friendly. I think we see Angel start, but not play the full ninety. Macoumba Kandji will partner up top with Angel.
The Red Bulls will be playing in front of a likely sold out crowd, and this time, there won't be much traveling support. With a similar starting eleven, the Red Bulls stay in rhythm and keep the Fire off the scoresheet with some help from Coundoul. Juan Pablo Angel scores his first of many in Red Bull Arena, and Joel Lindpere continues his great form by adding a dagger late in the match, a 2-0 win for the Red Bulls.
I'll be providing some commentary of the sights and sounds at Red Bull Arena on the Once A Metro Twitter page.