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Bustamante, Carney, Sam and Wright-Phillips: The Red Bulls New-Found Depth

Mike Petke is going to have some tough decisions to make down the stretch, but they're decisions any coach would want to have.


A few weeks ago you would've been forgiven for worrying about the Red Bull's depth.

After all, Mike Petke had few legitimate choices in key positions. With just a few injuries, the Red Bulls looked thin. Which is exactly what happened this past weekend against Toronto FC.

Tim Cahill was still suffering from a knee injury inflicted by Dejan Jakovic early in the Red Bulls' tilt with DC United. Lloyd Sam, as he's wont to do, came down with a groin injury that kept him out of the line-up and off the bench.

Enter Michael Bustamante, the rookie out of Boston University, who, by his own admission surprised at his selection. Bustamante filled in admirably for Cahill, earning the accolades of Thierry Henry and Soccer By Ives' Rookie of the Week honors.

But Bustamante hasn't been the team's only revelation during the team's there game winning streak. Recent performances from Sam, David Carney and Bradley Wright-Phillips are shaking up the Red Bulls' line-up and lending the team depth where there was little previously.

Sam's recent performances have been discussed before, but Eric Alexander heading to the bench gives the team a tactical choice in the middle of the park in case they need fresh legs or need to hold a lead. Plus, Petke now has four choices at central midfield -- Dax McCarty, Cahill, Alexander and Bustamante -- rather than three, which is extra important as hack-a-Cahill has become a viable strategy.

Aside from Bustamante, Saturday's other story was Fabian Espindola's wild header, just minutes after coming on. With Wright-Phillips' seemingly the perfect partner for Henry, Espindola heads to the bench. But if Saturday was any indication, not only is he more dangerous than Peguy Luyindula, he does the one thing that his French counterpart couldn't: Score.

And finally at left back, David Carney has knocked off the rust after not playing for a year and acquitted himself nicely. While Roy Miller deals with the injury that kept him out of Costa Rica's World Cup qualifiers and Connor Lade continues to lick his wounds, Carney is a more than apt replacement.

With 15 points left on the table, playoff seeding still up in the air and the Supporters' Shield still in reach, Petke has a few (good) headaches to deal with. And that can only be a good thing for the Red Bulls.