TV: NBC Sports
Don't call it a comeback -- they've been here for years! Today is the start of the 17th season of Major League Soccer play for New York's club, as the Red Bulls travel down to Texas for a game against FC Dallas. New York will be hoping to replicate their smash-and-grab win in last season's MLS Cup Playoffs, but will have to do so with a substantially changed roster.
The Red Bulls' preseason has been a mixed bag, with some good results, some good defending, better-than-expected goalkeeping, but also some unexpected losses and a distinct lack of goals. The most important questions for the Red Bulls to answer (which Matt discussed, along with a few others, earlier this week) are in goal and up front: can the relatively inexperienced pair of Jeremy Vuolo and Ryan Meara cope with the pressures of top-flight football, and can Thierry Henry & partner (whomever it is) score enough at the other end for New York to pick up wins instead of draws?
At the same time, we're fans, and as a result we have to be -- despite the insanity of it, at times -- optimistic, even absurdly so, for a new season. We could clean up this year, and win a treble (this won't happen). We could also squeak into the playoffs and go on to win MLS Cup (this also won't happen -- probably). I don't normally make predictions, but when I do....I say that the Red Bulls win win the East, finish between 2nd and 4th overall, and I have no idea what will happen in the lottery of the playoffs. But then, if I (or anyone else) could accurately predict these things, it wouldn't be any fun! So thank your deity of choice that I can't.
Onwards to the more serious business of today's match: the Red Bulls have a pretty good record down where the yellow roses grow, with two wins and a draw in their last three matches, and clean sheets on their last two visits. Of course, the starting lineup this afternoon will be substantially different from the team that beat Dallas in the Play-in game last year. Perhaps, then, it's a question of style -- the Red Bulls haven't played a possession-based game against Dallas in the Backe era, which is eminently sensible as FCD tends to keep the ball quite well. The Red Bulls will probably have to rely on their wingers (likely to be Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards) to press counterattacks, and the forward pairing (probably Thierry Henry and Juan Agudelo) to finish their chances.
Today's game is a mid-afternoon kickoff in Frisco, and (allegedly) Dallas has sold out Pizza Hut Park for the match, which will provide for a decidedly different atmosphere than the one the Red Bulls encountered last October. We'll have a match thread here (as always), so for the sane folks amongst you who are not headed down to Dallas, be sure to drop by and join in the conversation. Football's back -- let's get the season started right.