Aside from the obvious "good" that Major League Soccer is back, we have a chance to take a first look at the team and make some evaluations. Whether those evaluations hold true once the first real game of the season kicks off remains to be seen, but it doesn't hurt (or help, depending on how you look at it) to scrutinize.
So without further ado, the 2012 preseason's good, bad and ugly.
There's no doubt the Red Bulls went into camp this year with a big question mark between the posts. The choices were a rookie second round pick out of a relatively unknown college soccer program or a player signed from the Finnish second division a year removed from his college years. But both Ryan Meara and Jeremy Vuolo proved they can play. Meara made a number of great saves against Pumas UNAM in the Reto del Sol and Vuolo, while he played in less high profile games, showed his abilities as a shot stopper.
Plenty thought Erik Soler was crazy when he signed the 5'5" defender out of St. John's this off-season. He played centerback his last two years with the Red Storm and obviously, he couldn't do that at the professional level with his size and it was made clear he'd have to readjust to left back to play in MLS. While many figured he'd go the way of Matt Kassel and Sacir Hot, Lade rose to the challenge. He ended the preseason with a couple of assists and Hans Backe seems to think he'll challenge Roy Miller for time at left back.
It's not that Rodgers had a bad preseason. It was that it didn't existent. It's true the Red Bulls picked up Kenny Cooper on draft day for this exact reason, but there's no doubt that the Red Bulls are better with Rodgers in the line up. The Red Bulls' faithful love him and he loves being a Red Bull, but that isn't enough to get him stateside for a second year in white and red. He has a meeting Thursday about his visa and if all goes well, Rodgers should be back in the line-up at some point. He has been training with Aston Villa, so his fitness might be better than expected. Regardless of how - or if - he shows up, everyone would have been a little more comfortable with Rodgers in camp.
The Red Bulls finished the preseason 2-3-2. It's not great. it's not terrible either, really. But the losses were bad, with little, if any offense to show. It's true that the record at the end of the preseason doesn't matter. It's not as if Backe and the gang will start off the 2012 season with 8 points and it's not as if another Desert Diamond Cup would've earned the club a star above the crest, but as much as the preseason is about getting your feet under you and working out the kinks, it's about identifying problems and working through them. Far too often it appeared the Bulls were defending with six and attacking with four with no one in between.
Conde was supposed to be part of the solution at centerback, not part of the problem that saw a surly Rafael Marquez badmouth his teammates while working poorly with now departed Tim Ream. But Conde is hurt. Again. His time with Atlas was cut short because of an injury to his instep. Now it's a strained thigh. And what's worse, while much of the roster got a chance at some competitive soccer after a winter off, Conde played a measly 20 minutes. Even when he is ready two to three weeks from now, he'll have to be worked into the line-up.
The Goalless Streak
The 2-3-2 record was bad, but the three-game, 332-minute goalless streak was ugly. It's true that the Red Bulls were playing, mostly, reserves and trialists against a mix of first teamers and reserves, but when your team can't muster a goal in over 300 minutes, it doesn't feel good and doesn't leave too much optimism for the season to come. Much of the team that contributed to the Red Bulls offensive attack last season remains the same - a big issue was goals conceded last season - so that shouldn't be expected to continue. But that goalless streak certainly doesn't sit will.