When we last saw the New York Red Bulls in action it was against Toronto FC on May 28th. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored three, TFC was shut out, RBNY rolled into an extended mid-season break in peak form. Now the two-week break has come and gone. Copa America Centenario's Group Stage will be finish on Tuesday, June 14th - and the Red Bulls will get back on the field the very next day, against USL's Rochester Rhinos in US Open Cup.
But the Red Bulls are wary of the momentum-sapping impact of a long rest, so the club arranged to keep players' minds and bodies occupied by starting this week's preparations with a scrimmage against Ecuador's national team. This game was scheduled before it was known Los Amarillos would be USMNT's Copa America quarterfinal opponents - before it was certain Ecuador would even be in the knockout rounds of the tournament. From RBNY's perspective, it was simply a chance to get a workout against a good team.
"It was a great day to get some minutes against a quality opponent because it has been a long layoff." said Luis Robles, "Jesse has given days off sporadically, but the ideas are to work hard during the week and I feel like the guys have done that and it feels great to play again, such as a great competition like the US Open Cup."
Major League Soccer sides will be getting back into the swing of things with the 2016 edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The fourth round matches see all 17 of the league's American teams get started on their USOC campaigns. For RBNY that means a trip to Western New York to face the reigning USL Champions, Rochester Rhinos.
For the past two seasons the Rhinos have been played the Red Bulls' USL side. Those contests have been very entertaining to watch, but this will be the first time since 2005 that the Rhinos will play the RBNY MLS team. Actually, it will technically be the first time the Rhinos play RBNY's first team ever - the last time these clubs met, the Red Bulls were the MetroStars. And the Rhinos won.
In the fourth round, on August 3rd, 2005, it was a 3-1 victory for the Rhinos. They scored three times through Scott Palguta, Mauro Carabajal and Rene Rivas - who converted on penalty. Sergio Galvan Rey, in the 85th minute, tore up Rochester's clean sheet, providing small consolation to MetroStars fans.
"We think very highly of Rochester (Rhinos) they haven't lost in 25 consecutive games at home and this is the worst draw we could've gotten." said Jesse Marsch, "But we are going over there and we are putting a good team on the field, this tournament means a lot for us and we are facing a good team that's going to make us earn everything."
The Red Bulls know what they are up against: the Rhinos are a very solid side, a great home team in front of their fans, and always well prepared under head coach Bob Lilley.
"I played against them as a young kid growing up, they are tough to play against and a tough place to go." said Mike Grella, "They have a lot of pride on what they are doing there, they believe in themselves over there. They are a tough, big, physical team, games on turf and we have to get ready for them."
So the closed-door scrimmage against Ecuador perhaps underscores how seriously RBNY is taking the need to prepare for the challenge posed by the Rhinos. The training game finished 1-1, with Shaun Wright-Phillips scoring for RBNY.
This Wednesday will signal the restart of the Red Bulls season and they are well aware of who they are playing against. The Rochester Rhinos are no slouches in US Open Cup: famously, they are the only lower-division team to win USOC since MLS started. The 1999 Open Cup champs like to rattle MLS teams whenever they can, and the Red Bulls know they are heading north for a serious test.