The New York Red Bulls head back to Florida on Monday February 16 for their second warm-weather training camp of pre-season. This time around, the team will be in Bradenton, and will focus its efforts around an exhibition tournament hosted by IMG.
The IMG Suncoast Pro Classic will feature eight teams split into two groups of four.
One of those groups comprises Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union, a Costa Rica U-23 selection (Olympic qualifying is this year), and TP Mazembe - a Congolese team you may recall as the runner-up in the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup. Goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba was revealed to a global soccer audience during that tournament.
But those four teams are largely irrelevant to RBNY for the moment. The team will play one of them on February 28, either as a consolation game, or in the nominal final of this preseason get-together.
More immediately, the Red Bulls will be focused on their group opponents: HB Koge, Oklahoma City Energy, and Toronto FC.
The tournament schedule will see RBNY play each of those teams in the week spanning February 18-25, followed by that fourth and final match against a to-be-determined opponent from the other group on February 28.
Four games for Jesse Marsch to tweak tactics, urge these players toward full fitness, and figure out a starting lineup for RBNY's opening game of the regular season (@ Sporting Kansas on March 7, CBA negotiations permitting). Four games for us - the fans of this team - to second-guess Marsch's intentions, and form our own views on what may or may not be best for this particular group of players.
Once A Metro will be chiming in along the way with reviews and previews, starting with this glance at the teams RBNY will be facing in Florida.
HB Koge - Game 1: 2/18 @ 5:00 pm (Eastern)
The Swans play in Denmark's First Division, which is Danish soccer's second tier. They have been on a mid-winter break since November 30, so while it is true to say that the club is in mid-season, it is stretching the point to suggest this is team in "mid-season form". These players are basically in the same boat as those on MLS squads: prepping for competitive games in March.
Koge has a relatively young squad - defender Christian Traore is the only player over 30 on the roster. The evidence of its performance over 17 league games of its season to date suggests the team has trouble scoring - just 14 goals scored in those 17 matches - and defending (it has conceded 24 league goals to date). The club is currently in 8th place in the 12-team First Division, with 18 points and a -10 goal difference.
Recently, the squad has been bolstered by Trinidad and Tobago international defender Radanfah Abu Bakr (very briefly on Swansea City's books a few years ago) and forward Sami Kamel, who had been playing for HIK in the Danish Second Division.
If Koge does manage to find a goal or two against RBNY, the most likely candidates to score them are the team's Brazilian forwards, Brandao and Bruninho. Both players joined the Swans this season, and they have scored 10 of Koge's 14 league goals between them.
Oklahoma City Energy - Game 2: 2/21 @ 2:30 pm (Eastern)
If the Red Bulls are also using these friendlies to figure out their RBNY II squad, this would be a good game to let the fringe players have a run.
OKC is a USL team, so it will be playing at the same level as RBNY's reserve squad this season - albeit in a different Conference. In its inaugural season in 2014, the Energy finished 10th out of 14 teams in USL Pro, missing out on the playoffs.
The current squad numbers 15 players, so it would seem likely that the team will use the IMG tournament to take a look at a few trialists.
The roster bears a resemblance to its head coach, Jimmy Nielsen, a stalwart of Danish and Kansas City soccer. There is a little bit of Denmark represented by midfielder Sebastian Dalgaard and forward Danni Konig. Defender Cyprian Hedrick and midfielder Michael Harris each had brief spells with Sporting Kansas City. Perhaps the best known player on the team is forward Casey Townsend, the fifth pick in the 2012 MLS Super Draft (three places higher than current Red Bull, Andrew Jean-Baptiste).
Overall, this team is as much in preseason as RBNY.
Toronto FC - Game 3: 2/25 @ 7:30 pm (Eastern)
This is the most intriguing test on RBNY's preseason schedule. TFC looks like a ready-made MLS Eastern Conference heavyweight, having acquired Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, Benoit Cheyrou, and Damien Perquis in an effort to quickly move past the embarrassment of assembling a similarly talented squad last season and failing to make the playoffs for no better reason than the General Manager and Head Coach couldn't get along (take note, Ali and Jesse: if you find you just can't get along and the team is in a playoff spot with 10 or 11 games left to play - grin and bear it).
There aren't many rosters in MLS with a larger group of top-tier talent than TFC has assembled. And, of course, Altidore and Michael Bradley is a combination that might have been based in Harrison, had their respective stints with the Red Bulls/MetroStars worked out differently.
Less than two weeks before the scheduled start of the 2015 season, this will be RBNY's second run-out against TFC this pre-season. Both teams will be fitter and perhaps more focused than the first time they met. The result won't be any more meaningful than it was previously, but this will be a significant match for those Red Bulls seeking to convince Jesse Marsch they are worth a place in the starting lineup when the regular season kicks off.
Mystery Opponent - Game 4: 2/28
RBNY will play either Philly, Columbus, Costa Rica's U-23s, or TP Mazembe on February 28. We'll find out as the tournament progresses and preview the game when the time comes.
In the meantime, let us know what you're hoping to see RBNY get out of this tournament in the comments.