The New York Red Bulls have announced their 2017 preseason schedule. At last.
Well, they have announced half of it. Just as the sun set on the last Friday of the off-season, RBNY produced a press release to advise what we sort of already knew: the team will be traveling to Tucson, Arizona on January 23 for its opening preseason camp. There will be three friendlies played - against Portland Timbers on January 27, against Real Salt Lake on January 31, and against New England Revolution on February 3. The team will return home on February 4. And then it will begin a "second camp" on February 8.
This is news that might have been disclosed at least a couple of weeks ago, when a little guesswork and scanning of the preseason schedules of other teams yielded much the same information - at least up to February 4.
RBNY's season starts on February 22 with a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena.
Between then and now, in addition to fitness and tactical preparations, the first team will need a new captain (Dax McCarty was abruptly shuttled off to Chicago on January 16), at least a couple of additional defenders (still only two specialist center backs on the MLS roster as of January 20), and it would be nice to hear from the reportedly not-fired sporting director, Ali Curtis, sometime soon.
We've had our differences, Ali, but Once A Metro has grown to respect your work and now we're kinda worried about you. Send us a postcard or something. Please.
With regard to the Red Bulls' preseason half-schedule: a couple of weeks of warm-weather training in Arizona makes a certain amount of sense. The team does need to start training, and its own facilities are not at their most hospitable in winter. Also, the squad will be missing senior players Sacha Kljestan and Luis Robles for (we assume) the entirety of the first preseason camp, since both are involved in the US Men's National Team's January camp, which doesn't end until February 3.
If Kemar Lawrence is called up to Jamaica's squad to play USMNT on February 3, he also may not be too long with the team during its first preseason get-together. (And Dax McCarty is, of course, not coming back to RBNY at all after the USMNT training camp closes.)
So it won't be the absolute full squad in Arizona from January 23 to February 4.
As such, the more important part of the preseason might be considered the part still to be described: the camp starting on February 8. Senior players will be back, some cuts may be made to the inevitable list of trialists who make the January trip to Arizona, and the work of preparing for a strong start to the season will really begin.
The structure of the second preseason camp will also provide some insight into how RBNY intends to manage its commitment to Desert Diamond Cup. The second camp is also expected to be in Arizona, not least because RBNY press release on the half-schedule it's willing to talk about described the opening two-week stint in Tucson as the team's "first trip" to AZ. If there is a first trip, that suggests a second - and the club has long been named as one of the participants in "the premier MLS preseason tournament": Desert Diamond Cup.
This is problematic because RBNY's opening match in DDC is on February 18 - and that is just four days before the team's CCL quarterfinal first leg against Vancouver.
It would be a madness for RBNY to play DDC in Arizona against Sporting Kansas City on February 18, then play the Whitecaps in CCL in Harrison on February 22, fly back to Tucson for another pointless DDC match on February 25, and then jet off to Vancouver for the second leg of the CCL series on March 2.
Preseason is only helpful when it makes the team better for the actual season. If it gets in the way of the actual season, it's no longer serving its purpose.
OaM expects RBNY to find some way of fielding a team in CCL and DDC - and by "some way" we mean "two different squads". But we'll see what happens. The Red Bulls have not announced what they will be doing from February 8 to the start of the season on February 22.
We know - because NYCFC told us so - that RBNY is scheduled to play its noisy neighbors in Arizona on February 15. The looks like it might become, more or less, the cut-off for the first team's time in Tucson. A week (February 8 to 15) in Arizona followed by a week of preparation on home soil before the match on February 22.
At a push, maybe the first team plays that opening DDC game against KC on February 18. After that: it surely must focus on CCL.
For now, all we know for sure is half a preseason schedule:
RBNY's 2017 preseason: Jan 23 - Feb 8
Jan 23: travel to Arizona
Jan 27: play Portland Timbers in AZ
Jan 31: play RSL in AZ
Feb 3: play New England Revolution in AZ
Feb 4: back to NJ
Feb 8: second preseason camp begins