Tuesday night's Open Cup matchup against the Atlanta Silverbacks promises to give Red Bulls fans a glimpse of some players who have yet to see significant first team minutes so far this season. While last year's Open Cup game featured a lackluster effort from first team players, this year's edition should showcase a group of players motivated to crack the first eleven.
Several factors, constraints, and clues can help predict what Jesse Marsch's team selection will be come Tuesday night. First, international duty will hold out defenders Kemar Lawrence and Karl Ouimette, who are occupied with Copa America and World Cup qualifier matches respectively. Matt Miazga will just be returning from the Under 20 World Cup after playing 120 minutes early Sunday morning, which will almost certainly keep him from taking the field.
That leaves nine international players, of whom only five, according to US Open Cup rules, may feature in the gameday 18 (a rule that the Red Bulls may have violated last year against the Cosmos, but that Jesse Marsch seems to be aware of). Given that, as coach Marsch said on Monday, center back Ronald Zubar will return from injury to start, there will be four spots in the 18 for the remaining eight internationals.
Additional information from the Red Bulls II match over the weekend can further illuminate for fans who should make the gameday 18 tomorrow. Not a single senior team member played for Red Bulls II in their victory over the Wilmington Hammerheads on Saturday, leaving the USL affiliate woefully shorthanded with only three players (one of whom was a goalkeeper) on the bench. Such drastic action suggests that the senior players who have played for Red Bulls II for all or most of the season -- Santiago Castano, Leo Stolz, Manolo Sanchez, Anthony Wallace, Shawn McLaws, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste -- will all at least make the bench Tuesday night.
In the days ahead, the Red Bulls have games on Saturday, next Wednesday, and next Sunday, meaning that, although the team has gone 10 days without a game, Marsch will still look to rest many of his best players for the stretch ahead. With all that in mind, here's how the Red Bulls will most likely lineup in their first of what fans hope will be many Open Cup games this year:
Starting from the back, Kyle Reynish has only featured twice for Red Bulls II and has not notched any first team minutes while serving as Luis Robles' understudy so far this season. Castano will warm the bench while regular starter Luis Robles will have the night off.
Along the backline, Anthony Wallace will have the chance to make his second appearance for the Red Bulls after a solid if unspectacular stretch in USL play. With Kemar Lawrence and Roy Miller likely to miss large chunks of time in July while away at the Gold Cup, Tuesday marks an important opportunity for Wallace to make an impression and secure a spot in the lineup this summer. The injury-plagued Zubar is a confirmed starter against Atlanta, leaving the other two spots a bit more of a toss up. Perrinelle has a long stretch of games ahead of him while Jean-Baptiste, who has struggled with Red Bulls II, is looking to increase his stock in the eyes of the coaching staff.
Marsch will be looking for reinforcements when Miller and Karl Ouimette, each of whom have featured at center back in recent matches, depart for the Gold Cup, and can be expected to give Jean-Baptiste an opportunity to integrate himself with the senior team in the hope that he can prove a reliable backup should Zubar go down with another injury. McLaws has shown encouraging flashes of potential with Red Bulls II, and will start at right back since regular starter Chris Duvall is suspended due to his red card in last year's competition.
A pair of homegrowns, Connor Lade and Sean Davis, will anchor the Red Bulls' double pivot at the back of midfield. Davis is a virtual lock to start, while Lade should see minutes in a position that many in the Red Bulls organization see as his best fit, dating back to the days of the Roxburgh administration. Having only had the opportunity to play there for 45 minutes with Red Bulls II at the beginning of the year, Lade will hope to provide the Dax-like energy and tenacity required to make the team's high-press system function.
In attack, speedsters Marius Obekop and Dane Richards will look to get in behind the Atlanta defense while the highly touted rookie Leo Stolz will be given his first chance to impress at the senior level. Up top, Anatole Abang will look to rekindle his connection with Obekop that has led to goals in both USL and MLS play, while holding the ball up much in the way BWP has done all season.
With the five player limit on international players, Jesse Marsch will only be able to select one additional international on the bench. Damien Perrinelle is the only player left on the roster who could conceivably play center back, so he will likely get the nod, meaning Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam will rest up ahead of a busy stretch in league play.