The New York Red Bulls returned to training on Tuesday with a CONCACAF Champions League game to prepare for and a dreadful late-game slump against D.C. United to forget.
With regard to the latter, RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch was perhaps grateful that there were more pressing issues to discuss than the hows-and-whys of the calamitous collapse to DC (and Bradley Wright-Phillips said all that needed to be said on the subject anyway).
The more pressing issues are all about the fitness of key squad members. RBNY started the match against DC with two players (Dax McCarty and Omer Damari) sidelined by previously unreported injuries. And the team finished with Ronald Zubar on the bench after succumbing to an early knock, and Luis Robles unable to take his own goal kicks.
The Banged-up Bulls would be the story of RBNY's season were it not for the fact that the team persists in foregrounding the question of whether it can competently defend a lead against any opponent who gives a damn.
Still, for a team that has an obvious flaw that makes it vulnerable to the occasional moment of slapstick, RBNY is flying high: second in the MLS Eastern Conference and unbeaten in its last 13 games in all competitions. To keep that run going, there must be players available to do so. During Tuesday training, Jesse Marsch updated Big Apple Soccer's Kristian Dyer on the status of each of the latest four Red Bulls to succumb to the squad's ever-present injury bug.
The one thing they all have in common: most likely none will feature in Thursday's CCL match against Alianza.
Luis Robles needs some time to recover, but Marsch told BAS that RBNY's Ironman 'keeper was "getting better every day". Sit out CCL and be back in goal when the team kicks off its next MLS match in Toronto, would seem to the plan for Robles.
Club captain Dax McCarty is reported to be "close" to recovered from his groin injury. Marsch told Dyer he expected to hold the midfielder out of CCL in order to have the player available for TFC.
So far, so good: two senior players sitting out a game they'd likely have missed if they were fully fit.
The news is less encouraging for Damari and Zubar.
In both cases, Marsch was not able to tell BAS exactly what injury had been suffered. "He just pulled a little something in his abdomen so we think it's hip related," the head coach said of Damari. "Some sort of abdomen ailment" reads the headline for the BAS report on Marsch's meandering comments about Zubar.
Jesse Marsch, of course, is not a doctor and not required (probably, up to a point, not allowed) to give an accurate diagnosis of his players' injuries. But with Damari's injury described as "a little bit stagnant for a few days" and Zubar's yet to be adequately described at all, it would seem unlikely either will feature for RBNY in the near future.
And the near future is all that remains of the Red Bulls' season: five MLS matches, two CCL games, and no more than six playoff matches. The season has a maximum of three months and 13 games left, and each of those games will be important in its own way.
Two guys sitting out a midweek game and two guys on the mend is not an injury crisis, so this latest crop of tweaks and strains is not an obvious barrier to success in what remains of the season. But RBNY has to find 18 fit bodies for a match-day squad. Currently, it has 24 players on its MLS roster (who aren't on loan or otherwise out for the season).
Every game counts at this time of year, and that means every game contested with a short-handed squad (one already irrevocably depleted by long-term injuries to Gideon Baah and Connor Lade, as well as the export on loan of Anatole Abang and Karl Ouimette) is significant. Friday's injury update will be important; getting through the rest of this week without further damage to the roster is more so.