As the New York Red Bulls (4-1-5) gear up to play the Philadelphia Union (2-7-3), Coach Jesse Marsch says the team is ready to play and full of confidence every time they step onto the pitch. The Union are coming off a last gasp winner against DC United at home and have ended their losing streak, whereas the Red Bulls seem to be hitting a wall with only six points in their last 5 matches.
One of the advantages the Red Bulls have over the Union is a roster with a much higher level of talent. The team seems to have been adapting well to the new philosophy of play that Jesse Marsch had instilled and have created some attractive soccer which could be attributed to the new tactics. One of the players that has stood out for the manager has been center-back Damien Perrinelle.
The 31-year-old French defender has been a consistent starter and surprise bright spot this season. He was handed a significant role after new signing Ronald Zubar picked up an injury at Kansas City, and the team hasn't looked back. Perrinelle, along with Matt Miazga, has helped to maintain a strong back line, one that has not conceded more than two goals in any given game this season and recorded three shutouts. Perinelle has been instrumental and has performed well above expectations, particularly since last season he was considered a bit of an afterthought, appearing for only 7 minutes during the 2014 regular season.
Now, Jesse Marsch has given the Frenchman a significant role. With Zubar yet to recover, Perrinelle has spent 9 matches this season next to a young Matt Miazga and helped to ensure a solid back line with his steady veteran presence. With Miazga spending time with the United States U-20 team in Australia, Perrinelle will again be tasked with being both a leader and a mentor when paired with 22-year-old Karl Ouimette against the Philadelphia Union.
The pair seem to work well together in defense and managed to hold on long enough to secure a 2-1 win for the 10-man Red Bulls against New York City FC. Marsch has praised the Frenchman for his work ethic after Friday's practice: "Damien is the man. He wants to compete, he wants to work hard. From day one he was better than I thought."
With the departure of Jamison Olave and the retirement of Ibrahim Sekagya, it is a relief to Red Bull fans that a suitable replacement was found so quickly. They just didn't expect it to be a player who was already on the roster.
According to Marsch, the change in playing style to a more active high press did not phase Perrinelle. As the team has moved to a more attacking mindset with both fullbacks pushing forward, there has been an increased reliance on the efficiency and focus of the center backs. Marsch praised the former Clermont Foot and Boulogne player for his "good adaptation" to the club's new style.
A particular worry to fans has been the defender's quick accumulation of yellow cards (he has 5 through 9 matches). Marsch commented that he spoke to each of the referees that issued these cards as well as the league about what he referred to as "soft yellow cards." He remarked, "Damien has been a rock at defense. And he has not been fouling a lot, but has picked up yellow cards." Hopefully, Perrinelle will either be able to keep a cool head because he will be suspended for a future match if he is given a yellow card against Philadelphia.
Perrinelle's mettle certainly will be tested against the Union as the Red Bulls look for a win at home against a desperate team that has never won at Red Bull Arena. However, this year he's more than proven that's he's up for the challenge.